The Cabinet meets this morning for the first of its new Thursday congregations. Those around the table will be eyeing each other nervously and wondering who will still be there in a few weeks’ time.
Boris Johnson’s big reshuffle has been expected for weeks now, but rumours that it would take place today appear to have been premature. Nevertheless, it’s expected soon – Politico reports that it’ll happen before recess begins in a week.
Despite nearly six weeks of speculation, we still don’t really know what’ll happen. The list of predicted sackings is well known – Andrea Leadsom, Theresa Villiers and Liz Truss are the most repeated names, alongside Nicky Morgan who was only kept on as a stop-gap after resigning.
But it’s also well known that the list mostly contains women and Downing Street is aware of how bad that would look – especially as there aren’t many mid-ranking female Tory MPs to step up to the Cabinet in their place.
Keeping enough Brexiteers at the top table is another key consideration.
– A game of two chancellors –
Yet two major figures sit at the centre of the game of musical chairs: Sajid Javid and Michael Gove.
For the former, it’s a matter of his ongoing feud with Dominic Cummings, the Prime Minister’s chief adviser. In The Times today, there is yet another entry in the briefing war between the two. Cummings is, apparently, playing a central role in drawing up plans for next month’s budget.
Javid has already been guaranteed his job as Chancellor by Johnson, but that hasn’t put paid to the rumours. Rishi Sunak, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and a rising star, has been touted as a replacement. But Rowena Mason at The Guardian writes that he may be kept in place to “keep an eye” on Javid.
A good relationship between the Treasury and No10 is essential to smooth-running and effective government, so it’s not a great sign that there is already so much tension on Downing Street. That may limit Javid’s days, even if he stays on beyond next week.
As for Gove, it’s a question of what exactly he wants to do and what he will do. As the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, he has become something of an eminence grise. He is, supposedly, angling for almost every major role you can think of, from overseeing the Brexit negotiations with the EU to heading up the COP26 climate conference.
Camilla Tominey reports that he is rubbing Brexiteers up the wrong way by failing to wholeheartedly back a trade deal with the United States, and they don’t want him near the EU negotiations either. There’s also the usual dose of paranoia and scheming – rivals worry about how close Cummings and Gove still are and fear a backroom takeover of Downing Street.
Camilla also has the run-through of all the other rumoured Cabinet hirings and firings and the balancing act behind them.
– Time to deliver –
Whatever the outcome, this will be a particularly consequential reshuffle. For a man obsessed with the rather American idea of the “first 100 days” of government, Johnson has done very little since winning the election.
The Tories might be in an excellent position already for the next election, but if Johnson is to retain his popularity he needs to get on and deliver on his promises. Putting together an effective Cabinet is an essential first step, but already politics is getting in the way.
Front Bench. Capurro.
TAP – Gove must be his main worry ! After knifing him in his leadership bid. Not an easy task coming up.