The 2018 Cabinet Reshuffle

Government reshuffles are driven by the need to send the right signals, both to MPs and to the wider public, as my colleague Neil Carmichael wrote last week. The Prime Minister has sent the signal that, for better or for worse, continuity is king.

Some new figures will steer the Conservative Party, led by Chairman Brandon Lewis and his well-regarded deputy, James Cleverly. They are supported by a group of Vice-Chairs and it seems that Ms May has consciously promoted younger MPs to steer the Party, with a good number of minority ethnic MPs in the group. This perhaps reflects the fact that the Party’s membership has been declining and is disproportionately older and largely lacking in ethnic diversity.

It is reported that almost half of Conservative Party members are over 65 years old, and only around 5 percent of members are under 25. This presents a crucial demographic challenge that should ideally be addressed before the next election. The new team will be expected to make the Conservative Party attractive to a wider range of British voters.

In the Cabinet appointments, however, there is a lot of continuity. Amber Rudd retains her Home Office role and is emerging as a key ally of Ms May. Jeremy Hunt remains Health Secretary – which is a sign that they wish not to change the political lead for the NHS during a particularly bad winter season for the service. Greg Clark is (surprisingly) returned as the Secretary of State for Business. David Davis and Phillip Hammond remain in their crucial roles.

With so much continuity in the top team, it begs the question – is Theresa May signalling the virtue of stability, or the awkward fact that her ability to make changes is severely constrained? All Prime Ministers have to balance competing factions in Cabinet, but Ms May does seem particularly hemmed in by her minority in the Commons and the demands of Brexit. There are rumours that some figures simply refused the PM’s wishes to move them. If that turns out to be true, then Ms May has a serious problem with her personal authority in the Party.

Junior ministerial appointments are expected today (9 January), which will indicate which of the newer MPs are the rising stars to watch. If Theresa May is not going to lead the Party into the next election, perhaps one of today’s appointees will take up the mantle.

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