So it’s the midday on Friday June 9th. The results are in and it may not be quite the landslide she had hoped for but Theresa May is back in Downing Street and sitting down to form her new Cabinet. Reshuffling a cabinet after barely eleven months poses several dilemmas. If you make too many changes it indicates you made some pretty dodgy decisions in the first place. If you make too few you fail to take advantage of the fact that you’re never more powerful than when you have won an election. But, but, is that the situation Theresa May will find herself in? Let’s hope so, but there remains a nagging doubt that this clusterfuck of a campaign will ruin it all. Having said that, lest we forget 2015 when most people thought the Tory campaign had been boring, unimaginative and uninspiring. Everyone thought a defeat was inevitable and that a hung parliament was the best that could be hoped for. Instead, the party won a majority for the first time since 1992.
For our purposes here let is agree that Theresa May won’t carry out a night of the long knives. After all, she did that back in July.
Let’s start at the top. I’m told Boris Johnson is paranoid that he will be sacked or moved. He has surely nothing to fear. I think he has performed relatively well and it would surely be embarrassing for Mrs May to do anything other than keep him in situ.
I am less sure about the Chancellor’s position. It’s clear he has had his issues with Number Ten and has certainly not sung from the same Brexit hymnsheet as the Prime Minister on occasion. In this campaign he has been almost totally invisible. His card is well and truly marked, but let’s remember that he and the Prime Minister go back a long way. If he is to be brutally dispatched, the woman tipped to replace him is Home Secretary Amber Rudd. She has had a ‘good war’ and has successfully played herself into being mentioned as a successor to Theresa May when the time comes.
I’m taking for granted that both David Davis and Liam Fox will remain in post, although it is a little mystifying that Dr Fox has been almost totally absent from this campaign. As a good media performer you’d have thought he’d have had a higher profile. Perhaps it’s to come in the last few days as Brexit takes centre stage.
Jeremy Hunt to move from Health is almost a given. He was never supposed to be reappointed to the job, but when Stephen Crabb decided to leave government Jeremy Hunt was told to put his NHS badge back on and get on with it. He’s a good tip to replace Amber Rudd at the Home Office if she becomes Chancellor, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he called it quits and decided to leave government. He’s got three small children and I just wonder if he might want a break. Stranger things have happened.
In terms of departures from the Cabinet I’m told Sajid Javid has not impressed Number Ten and may be facing an interview without coffee. Liz Truss, according to many of her colleagues, deserves the same fate, but a move to education may be what awaits her, with Justine Greening moving to health.
I think Brandon Lewis is a sure-fire certainty for promotion to the cabinet, possibly to Justice. His Home Office experience would come in handy and he’s a lawyer so would be seen as more acceptable than Liz Truss.
Dominic Raab is another name being mentioned for a ministerial recall. He may have to accept a year as Minister of State, but he’s an effective communicator and could well make the full jump.
Michael Gove is also being tipped for a comeback. Despite having had bad personal relations with Theresa May in government he has been seen earning his passage back and being totally loyal. CCHQ have been offering him to broadcasters throughout the campaign and he’s performed well. It may be a little early for a return, but don’t rule it out. The only problem is where to slot him in. Back to education just to annoy the NUT? I doubt it, but there would be something rather delicious about it. Mark Harper is another refugee from the Cameron government who may well return to high office. He’s another one who could have been difficult, but has been conspicuously loyal. A possible successor to Sajid Javid or even to Jeremy Hunt at health.
A more radical shuffle might see Andrea Leadsom and Chris Grayling fearing for their positions, but surely Theresa May couldn’t be so ruthless as to say goodbye to her erstwhile leadership campaign manager, could she? I think we all know the answer to that one, but she would be well advised not to do it. Grayling loves the job at Transport and is beginning to make a real impact.
Patrick McLoughlin might well have reached the end of the road, but I think David Lidington will survive, partly due to his popularity with his colleagues and opposition MPs. I’d be sorry to see Patrick go. He and I go back a long way. I remember passing him briefing notes during the Committee Stage of the Ports Bill in 1991. Twenty six years ago!
I think there will be widespread changes in the lower ranks with the guiding light being that if a Minister of State has no chance of making cabinet they should make way for someone who will. It’s striking when you look through the list of ministers of state how few you could actually imagine holding down a cabinet job.
Of course, the big question is whether John Hayes can survive yet another reshuffle!
There may also be some sort of Downing Street reshuffle as well. Iain Martin has written that he thinks Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy should be fired due to the fact that he thinks they are “drunk on power”. I do not. They are two of the most brilliant political minds of their generation and have formed a formidable partnership. However, you can’t have two ‘chiefs of staff’. The decision Theresa May has to make is whether to let them both do what they are good at, or maintain the status quo. If she does the former, she’ll make Fiona Hill Director of Communications (which she already is, in effect) and Nick Timothy Head of Policy. She could then bring in someone else to take over the more traditional chief of staff role. I have no one in particular in mind, but it needs to be someone with government experience, and a bit of a greybeard who commands respect from all over and doesn’t relish a media spotlight.
On Thursday night at 10pm I’ll be co-hosting LBC’s election night coverage with Shelagh Fogarty. We’lll be going through until 5am when Nick Ferrari takes over. We stream the whole thing on Facebook Live and provide somewhat of an antidote to the BBC’s rather more staid coverage. At least we try to. We’re also allowed to be opinionated and the discussions are certainly quite robust at times. As well as politicians like Michael Gove, Emily Thornberry, Eric Pickles and various others we’ll also be joined by our resident psephologists Gareth Knight and Rob Hayward, as well as economics commentator Liam Halligan. I hope you’ll join us for at least part of the night.
This is my last column before polling day so I suppose I should try to make an educated prediction as to what will happen. My seat by seat predictions (which seem a long time ago now) added up to a majority of around 130. I still think that’s possible, but perhaps not probable. I could adopt the YouGov approach of giving a range (they gave a range of 270-345 seats in their ridiculous recent survey) but that is a copout. My gut instinct is a majority of somewhere between 80 and 100 but I should perhaps stick to my original prediction of around 388-395 seats for the Tories and around 165-70 seats for Labour. I still think a lot depends on turnout and where the UKIP votes go and what happens to the LibDem vote in Tory Labour marginals. For those reasons and others it’s almost impossible to make a reasoned prediction. All I know is that if there isn’t an increased Tory majority, that’s when things start to get really interesting. And I mean, really interesting.