To say that it has been a calamitous and unprecedented six weeks for British politics is a cliché at this point. For the uninitiated, Boris Johnson’s government ended in disgrace after several scandals brought it down in July (although he was officially Prime Minister until 5th September 2022). Over the summer, a drawn-out election for leader of the Conservative Party, and hence, the office of Prime Minister, resulted in two front-runners duking it out; Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak. Truss won the vote of the membership and was made Prime Minister.
Yet again the government was embarrassed after several scandals, including a disastrous ‘mini-budget’ from former Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng and a chaotic vote against fracking in the House of Commons, where Conservative whips (essentially the people responsible for enforcing discipline amongst the party’s MPs) were accused of bullying and manhandling MPs of their own party to vote with the government.
Truss then resigned on Thursday (20th September), meaning that another leadership election would be necessary. However, this one did not go to the Conservative Party membership. The 1922 Comittee, a parliamentary committee which represents backbench (not in the Cabinet) Conservative MPs, changed the rules so that a candidate must gain the support of 100 MPs in order to stand on the ballot. Blissfully short, apart from a brief threat from Penny Mordaunt (who resigned after failing to get enough support), Rishi Sunak was annointed leader on Monday and made Prime Minister shortly after.
Now our brief recap is done with, let’s take a look at who the new Prime Minister has entrusted with the responsibilities of the office of state.
Jeremy Hunt has remained in position as Chancellor. As he has reversed most of Kwasi Kwarteng’s unpopular budget, he is a natural choice for Sunak as he presents a show of unity and a ‘continuity’ amidst the one big tumult that has been British politics in 2022.
Suella Braverman returns as Home Secretary, a position she held under Truss but resigned due to an email-related scandal. Again, this seems to be an attempt by Sunak to heal the divides in his party. Braverman is architect of the controversial ‘Rwanda plan’ to send asylum seekers to Rwanda in order to have their asylum claims processed.
Michael Gove, a veteran of David Cameron’s government, is appointed as Secretary for Levelling Up. Gove is an old hand who has sat in the cabinet in some capacity since 2010. He brings experience to Sunak’s government.
Nadhim Zahawi replaces Jake Berry as Party Chair. He has now served under four governments: Theresa May, Boris Johnson, Liz Truss and now Rishi Sunak.
James Cleverly has been reappointed as Foreign Secretary. He remains in post after Truss’s resignation, despite going against Sunak in the summer and backing Johnson before he stated that he would not run.
Jacob Rees-Mogg is now out of government and returns to the backbenches. He was Business Secretary under Truss, but his criticism of Sunak as being ‘disloyal’ to Boris Johnson saw his position in the cabinet becoming untenable.
Thérèse Coffey is now Secretary of the Environment, losing the Deputy Prime Minister position to Dominic Raab, who also returns as Justice Secretary which are the two positions he had in Boris Johnson’s cabinet. Steve Barclay takes over from her as Health Secretary.
Mel Stride takes the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions position. An ally and key adviser to Sunak during the summer leadership contest, he has been duly rewarded for his loyalty, plucked from backbench obscurity.
Gillian Keegan, a relatively fresh MP who was first elected in 2017, becomes the Secretary of State for Education.
Ben Wallace is again Secretary of State for Defence. A strong supporter of Ukraine, this indicates that Sunak’s government has no intentions of warming relations up with Russia and will continue to pursue the policies of the previous two prime ministers.
Penny Mordaunt, who failed in her challenge against Sunak for leadership, is appointed Commons Leader. This was her previous position and it appears that Sunak has made of example of her by refusing her promotion.
Michelle Donelan is now the Secretary for Culture and Kemi Badenoch returns as Secretary for Trade. These are positions previously held by Donelan and Badenoch respectively.
Oliver Dowden, a key ally of Sunak, is appointed Chancellor for the Duchy of Lancaster, a position that allows an MP to have the right to sit in cabinet without having a particular brief.
Grant Shapps has been given the Secretary for Business position. Briefly Home Secretary after Suella Braverman’s resignation, he is another alum of Boris Johnson’s government, where he served as Secretary for Transport.
Other appointments include Mark Harper as Secretary for Transport, Alister Jack as Secretary for Scotland, David Davies as Secretary for Wales, Chris Heaton-Harris as Secretary for Northern Ireland and Simon Hart as Chief Whip.
Sunak has mostly staffed his cabinet with those who remained loyal to Boris Johnson (with the exception of Rees-Mogg). He has mostly purged his cabinet of Liz Truss appointees, such as Alok Sharma, Brandon Lewis and Kit Malthouse. However, there are some survivors of Truss’s cabinet present, such as Suella Braverman and Thérèse Coffey. Indeed, unity has so far been a key element of Sunak’s rhetoric, using the phrase ‘unite or die’ in reference to the existential threat he sees the disunity of the party over these last few months as representing. This likely explains his mixed-bag of appointees, which is intended to please as many people as possible. In summary, the cabinet remains largely the same as it changes. Familiar faces return as some fresh blood is sprinkled in to spruce things up.
His government has a smorgasbord of crises to attend with; an adverse economic outlook with a tough winter for many people, difficult choices with regards to taxation and public spending which could lead to further conflict within the party and anxiety-inducing polling against the Labour Party. With a general election less than two years away, Rishi Sunak has a long, hard journey ahead of him with many pitfalls in his way.