The first task facing any new prime minister is to form a government. This means sacking existing ministers and appointing new ones. It means rewarding allies and penalizing those whose faces don’t fit. For Rishi Sunak this is not going to be the most pleasurable of experiences, since there will be at least forty MPs who might reasonably expect to serve in his cabinet. Unfortunately there is only room around the cabinet table for 22, although previous prime ministers have topped this up to 32 with eight or ten ministers “attending cabinet”, while not full members. My hope is that he does away with the hangers on and restricts cabinet to 22-24 members. Fat chance.
The most important appointment for the First Lord of the Treasury is to appoint the Second Lord, better known as the Chancellor the Exchequer. The assumption is that he will retain Jeremy Hunt, but I have heard rumours that Mel Stride or even Steve Barclay could be appointed – both key allies of Rishi Sunak. If Stride doesn’t get the Treasury he will definitely get an important job. If I were Sunak I’d make him Chief Whip. He has authority and ‘bottom’.
Penny Mordaunt is said to be angling for the Foreign Office and/or Deputy Prime Minister. This would mean James Cleverly departing. He was a key supporter of Boris Johnson but has performed well at the FCDO and his services should be retained in cabinet. Therese Coffey, the Health Secretary and Deputy Prime Minister is likely to be relieved of her posts, along with Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Business Secretary and Sir Robert Buckland, the Welsh Secretary. Buckland defected from Sunak to Truss in the first leadership campaign and is unlikely to be forgiven. Expect a return to cabinet for Stephen Crabbe or Simon Hart
Grant Shapps occupies the other great office of state, the Home Office, and will be desperate to stay there, having only been appointed a week ago. Dominic Raab is thought to be in with a shout of replacing him, but I wouldn’t bet the mortgage on that one. Sajid Javid is also keen on a return to cabinet, but would only accept one of the top jobs. Tricky. Suella Braverman has been briefing she wouldn’t mind a return to the Home Office, but that would surely be unthinkable. She’s also pitching for Brandon Lewis’s job at Justice, but Lewis is a good media performer and in a very short time has made a mark, especially on prisons policy and solving the barristers’ strike.
Ironically, as the first British Asian PM, Rishi Sunak has a problem in that most of his leading supporters are white men. Where are the leading women? If we assume Liz Truss, Therese Coffey and Chloe Smith are all likely cabinet departures, where are the women to replace them? Anne-Marie Trevelyan is also at risk. Wendy Morton will be fired as chief whip, and although she may get a junior post she won’t remain in cabinet.
Most of his key allies are white men. Mark Harper, Robert Jenrick, Gavin Williamson, Oliver Dowden, for example.
Those likely to stay in post are Nadhim Zahawi, Brandon Lewis and Kemi Badenoch, but Simon Clarke, Michele Donelan, Ranil Jayawardena, Kit Malthouse, Chris Heaton-Harris and Alister Jack will all be seen as expendable. My outside tip for the Scottish Office is Andrew Bowie.
Of those attending cabinet both James Heappey and Tom Tugendhat might expect to be promoted to full cabinet. If Ben Wallace decide he couldn’t stay (because Sunak won’t commit to spend 3% of GDP on defence) either would be a suitable replacement.
Jake Berry has proved popular in his short time as party chairman, but any prime minister would want a loyalist in that post, so expect Berry to be reshuffled to a senior minister of state post.
I’d bet my mortgage that Victoria Atkins will be promoted to the cabinet, as a signal that that left of the party is to be included at the top table. She’s a competent media performer. In terms of other women likely to be promoted, Gillian Keegan and Nus Ghani are two to watch, along with Victoria Prentis, Lucy Frazer and Claire Coutinho. Coutinho may not make it to cabinet this time, but she was Sunak’s PPS at the Treasury and is a rising star.
In terms of greybeards, Rishi Sunak is likely to bring a couple of old lags back, and one of them could be Andrew Mitchell returning to a Foreign Office role, presumably taking over International Development. The ERG will want to be compensated for Jacon Rees-Mogg leaving cabinet, so watch for Iain Duncan Smith or Graham Brady to (re)enter government. Liam Fox, a close friend of Sunak, could also be in for a surprise return, possibly even to his old department at International Trade. And then there’s Michael Gove. Surely not… but never count him out!
Anyway, here’s what I think the cabinet might look like. Obviously I will get a lot of the positions wrong, but at least I put my money where my mouth is!
Prime Minister: Rishi Sunak
Deputy Prime Minister: Sajid Javid
Chancellor of the Exchequer: Jeremy Hunt
Foreign Secretary: Penny Mordaunt
Home Secretary: Grant Shapps
Business Secretary: Dominic Raab
Health Secretary: Steve Barclay
Education Secretary: Oliver Dowden
Work & Pensions Secretary: Robert Jenrick
DCMS: Victoria Prentis
Chief Whip: Mel Stride
Chief Secretary to the Treasury: Victoria Atkins
DEFRA: Nus Ghani
Defence: Ben Wallace
Justice: Brandon Lewis
Levelling Up: James Cleverly
Cabinet Office: Nadhim Zahawi
Party Chairman: Kemi Badenoch
Leader of the House of Lords: Lord True
International Trade: Liam Fox
Transport: Lucy Frazer
Northern Ireland: Chris Heaton-Harris
Scotland: Alister Jack
Wales: Simon Hart