Rishi Sunak, the embattled Prime Minister, surprised everyone with a bold and unexpected cabinet reshuffle. After months of uncertainty and lukewarm reception to his previous attempts at resetting his premiership, Sunak seems to be finally fighting back. The unexpected move of sacking Suella Braverman as home secretary and reinstating former Prime Minister David Cameron as foreign secretary caught everyone off guard. This reshuffle has been described as bolder than anticipated, although it has raised some eyebrows with its unconventional decisions.
Sunak’s loyalists believe that this reshuffle was a necessary step for the PM to assert his authority and show the world who he truly is. It involved replacing individuals who were initially appointed for party management reasons when Sunak first assumed office. The controversial home secretary, who Sunak had repeatedly defended, was swiftly removed from her position. Additionally, Liz Truss’s former deputy, Therese Coffey, had to make way for Sunak’s supporters at the top table. Downing Street insiders claim that this reshuffle, in the works for weeks, aims to demonstrate unity and purpose around the Prime Minister and assemble a cabinet where competence reigns supreme.
Sunak has strategically promoted his key allies to crucial positions to prepare for an upcoming election. James Cleverly has been appointed to lead on the small boats pledge, positioning him as a valuable asset. Vicky Atkins, another loyalist, has been promoted to health secretary, as the National Health Service (NHS) becomes a significant battleground and potential weak spot for the government in the approaching general election. Laura Trott, a trusted ally, has been placed in the Treasury as the deputy to Chancellor Jeremy Hunt. Another longtime confidant, John Glen, has moved to the Cabinet Office to assist Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden in the delivery of key initiatives.
While Sunak managed to capture attention through the re-appointment of former Prime Minister David Cameron, it comes with its share of risks. Some fear that Cameron’s charisma might outshine Sunak, potentially overshadowing the current Prime Minister. Furthermore, Cameron’s return has been marred by controversies, from his discordant views on issues like HS2 and overseas aid budget cuts to his involvement in a prominent lobbying scandal. The Financial Times exposed Cameron’s clandestine lobbying efforts on behalf of Greensill Capital, which the Labour Party swiftly seized upon. Additionally, discontent is growing within ambitious Conservative MPs, who are disillusioned by the absence of viable candidates within their ranks to assume the role of foreign secretary.
As Sunak positions himself more centrally and collaborates with the environmentally conscious and socially liberal David Cameron, the right-wing of the party feels left out in the cold. The One Nation group of Tories believes they are regaining control of the party, but others on the right view this shift with alarm. A meeting is scheduled for the New Conservative grouping of right-wing MPs, including Suella Braverman, Sir John Hayes, Miriam Cates, and Danny Kruger, during which Braverman’s leadership aspirations are expected to be discussed. While an immediate challenge may not be on the horizon, the intentions are clear. Supporters of Braverman assert that her departure from government would offer her more visibility and freedom. They argue that she has gone from being an unknown Attorney General to a well-known Home Secretary, suggesting that even as a Queen over the water, she would have daily media coverage.
With little left to lose, the Prime Minister has chosen to abandon caution and play it risky. This reshuffle may be one of his final rolls of the dice to salvage his troubled premiership. Some may perceive it as a “hail Mary” pass from a leader trailing in the polls and with a party that is potentially fracturing even further. While unity may prevail within the new cabinet, concerns remain regarding the reaction from backbenchers who may feel neglected or marginalized.
In carrying out this unexpected and daring reshuffle, Rishi Sunak has surprised his opponents and confounded expectations. He has demonstrated his willingness to take risks and reshape his premiership. Only time will tell if this bold move will pay off or if it further exacerbates the challenges he already faces. Sunak has made it clear that he is prepared to fight for his position and lead his party into the next election but whether that gamble will yield victory remains uncertain.