Are the Conservatives finally politicking?

13 Nov 2023, 18:28

What started with the much anticipated sacking of Suella Braverman as Home Secretary, has resulted in a reshuffle of Rishi Sunak’s front bench. And in a move surprising many, the Rt Hon David Cameron, UK PM from 2010-2016, has been brought out of political retirement to join the Cabinet as Foreign Secretary. Take a look at some of the key moves below.

James Cleverly

New position:
Home Secretary

Previous Roles:

  • Foreign Secretary: September 2022 - November 2023.
  • Formerly held various positions in the Foreign Office and the Department for Exiting the European Union.

Considerations about Cleverly
Cleverly quickly earned respect as Foreign Secretary during a tumultuous time in international affairs, given the war in Ukraine and the recent crisis in the Middle East. His appointment has therefore been welcomed by his colleagues and anticipated by political spectators, viewed as a strong, steady, and less polarising figure than his predecessor.

One of Cleverly’s first challenges as Foreign Secretary will reach the Supreme Court on Wednesday, as they rule on the legality of the Government’s Rwanda migration policy. If given the green light, this will be a key action to kick-start Cleverly’s time in post, but a negative outcome could be equally disruptive for Government policy. Recent experience of international conflicts will likely be a key focus as he begins his tenure as Home Secretary, ensuring tensions in the Middle East do not contribute to social issues at home.

Cleverly has established himself as a loyal figure to Sunak and a safe pair of hands, rationalising his replacement of Braverman.

David Cameron

New Position:
Foreign Secretary (and concurrently appointed to the House of Lords)

Previous Roles:

  • UK Prime Minister from May 2010 until July 2016.
  • Leader of the Conservative Party from December 2005 until July 2016.
  • Member of Parliament from June 2001 until September 2016.

Considerations about Cameron
Depending on who you ask, Cameron’s appointment could be perceived as either a moment of desperation or a bold statement from Sunak, clearly not satisfied any of the 350 sitting Conservative MPs could fulfil the role. However, the nature of Cameron’s resignation as Prime Minister in 2016, as a result of Brexit, will lead many to question his ability to effectively serve as Foreign Secretary. Moreover, his inability to respond to Commons questions moving forward, as he is not a sitting MP, will likely deepen existing frustrations over his appointment.

Sunak has used his time as Prime Minister to strengthen the UK’s relationship with non-EU nations, namely China. Thus, Cameron’s appointment as Foreign Secretary seems a natural one given his time as Prime Minister was considered the “golden era” of China-UK bilateral relations on trade and investment.

David Cameron’s appointment has also been questioned by many given recent criticism of Government policy, including just two months ago casting doubt on Sunak’s move to cancel HS2 to Manchester.

Steve Barclay

New position:
Environment Secretary

Previous Roles

  • Health Secretary: October 2022 - November 2023.
  • Formerly held positions such as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Minister for the Cabinet Office, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, and Exiting the European Union Secretary.

Considerations about Barclay
A key battleground for the upcoming General Election, the Environment is a highly contentious issue that the Government needs to get control of. Appointing Barclay to the role ensures a loyal Sunak supporter is at the heart of this department, hopefully providing some security for the Prime Minister’s position. Representing a constituency with significant farmland, it is likely he will use this new position to advance farming and agriculture.

Well-known for his commitment and knowledge of his former brief as Health Secretary, the loss to the Health Department is likely to be felt.

Victoria Atkins

New position:
Health Secretary

Previous roles

  • Financial Secretary to the Treasury: October 2022 - November 2023.
  • Formerly held positions such as Justice Minister and Minister for Afghan Resettlement.

Considerations about Atkins
The brief for Health Secretary has been marred by strikes in the NHS which have yet to be resolved, providing a clear target for Atkins as she takes on this heavy brief. Among other promises, the Conservative’s will be keen to deliver the 40 new hospitals they committed to in their 2019 manifesto.

This appointment for Atkins signifies a major promotion, as the first Cabinet post she will hold since she was elected in 2015. Sunak will see her as a trusted aide at a critical point for the health sector in the UK, which is currently enduring long waiting lists, pay disputes and crumbling infrastructure. It is widely commented that at this point, the Health Secretary faces an uphill battle in the UK’s tough climate currently.

Not known to have any professional experience in the health sector, Atkins will have to quickly make her priorities known and prove her position as the Secretary of State.