Rishi Sunak has opted for a somewhat cautious cabinet reshuffle, appointing a handful of key allies while trying to bring together the best teams of his two predecessors, Liz Truss and Boris Johnson, in a bid to keep the Tory party together.
The finished product probably doesn’t look like the cabinet he would have liked to form, nor the one he hopes to lead the Tories with to the next general election – but it got the job done in that it slightly ruffles most MPs’ feathers . rather than alienating an entire wing of the party.
In the end, there were 11 ministerial departures – a mix of dismissals, resignations and a demotion, so he cannot have been described as too timid.
And Sunak showed bravery in keeping Ben Wallace as defense secretary and bringing Suella Braverman back as home secretary, as well as letting Gavin Williamson join the government.
The former may seem obvious given that Sunak has said he wants to ensure continued support for Ukraine. But it has been made clear that Wallace expects the new prime minister to deliver on his promise to increase defense spending to 3% of GDP by the end of the decade.
Sunak notably didn’t make that commitment, and Wallace has staked his job on the promise of commitment, so staying in office means he’s keeping the new prime minister’s feet under fire.
Braverman’s return is a bold choice, given that she was forced to step down less than a week ago for breaking cabinet code by sharing sensitive cabinet information on a personal phone with a fellow MP.
Not only is Braverman likely to maintain a hard line on immigration, which could torpedo the chances of a trade deal with India and rule out relaxing rules on foreign workers to help spur economic growth, but the appointment threatens to undermine a key commitment made in Sunak’s first speech. as prime minister.
“This appointment borders on the spirit of his promise to restore integrity,” said a disgruntled MP. “She should have been on the sidelines for a while and then come back to a lower position – not come back in six days.”
Another sighed that Braverman was “not one of the sensitive, but he had to beg that side of the party.”
Williamson’s appointment came late in the day and raised fears the cogs had started to fall out of the reshuffle. “Rishi was doing so well until about 5 p.m.,” said a senior MP, who lamented that “it became a reshuffling of jobs for friends” that was “neither unifying nor intelligent.”
Another said Williamson was ‘part of the dirt we’re trying to clean up’ and would ‘upset and anger many Tory backbenchers’. A third called it “Rishi’s biggest mistake to date”.