Time for a Transition Cabinet │ Ted Yarborough
Theresa May has been a less than strong and stable Prime Minister lately. Ever since her general election under-performance, Theresa May’s position has been in question, as has the positions of her cabinet ministers. Last week, the Prime Minister even had to face off the first challenge to her leadership- albeit from a disgruntled former party chairman.
Without a doubt, much of the speculation about which cabinet ministers might go is idle chatter that political obsessives in the media entertain themselves with, but that few real people care about. The media’s disconnect from the issues real people care about was most shown when they declared the Prime Minister’s Conference speech a disaster; when in fact most people sympathised with a woman having a cold and dealing with a cruel prankster- as any poll movement after the conference goes slightly to the Conservatives. Nevertheless, Theresa May’s Conservatives are truly at risk for losing the next election to far-left Labour if they do not offer the country something new.
The problem facing Theresa May’s government is that no one knows what she and her close ministers stand for. Theresa May’s domestic policies are largely Ed Miliband’s, and on Brexit she seems to be grudgingly “doing her duty”.
At the Conservative Party Conference, the Prime Minister announced an energy price cap, freezing of tuition fees, and a little bit more council house building. Those policies are a capitulation to Labour. David Cameron’s government rightly created exchanges where millions of consumers have been able to shop around and acquire lower energy prices and rightly condemned the price cap policy as economically illiterate. Theresa May gave in. On house building, May weakly mimicked a Labour policy rather than being bold and tearing up the outdated town and country laws which prevents house building- as William Hague recently called for. On Student debt, she feebly found herself unable to boast, as the Cameron government rightly did, that tuition fees have brought thousands of people into attaining a university education. Rather she capitulated to the flawed assumption that tuition fees are harmful.
The problems of Theresa May’s lack of vision was further on display in her and her “number two”, Damian Green, being even now unable to enthusiastically support Brexit. On Iain Dale at Drive on LBC, the Prime Minister found herself unable to say whether she would support Leave or Remain if she had to do her vote all over again. Damian Green had no problem saying that it would have been better had Remain won. This is concerning, because the government’s job is to sell Brexit as being a great opportunity- as the Foreign Secretary so brilliantly did in his “controversial” Telegraph essay and conference speech. Intellectually, she has done most of the right things regarding Brexit. Her Lancaster House speech was excellent, and outside of some ambiguity about the role of the ECJ during the so-called implementation period, she seems to be trying to do her best. However, if she wants to be the leader of the UK, should not she believe in the mission her people instructed her to fight for?
The Prime Minister should not fight the next election. Blowing a 25-point poll lead a month before the general election against an extremist opponent is unforgivable and she frankly lacks a coherent ideological vision and does not inspire the country. Nevertheless, the Prime Minister does have an admirable sense of duty and patriotism to both the nation and her party. She also knows, rightly, that the UK should present the same Prime Minister, and not be seen to be unstable, during the Brexit negotiations. Therefore, if she is truly wants to do her duty she should open her cabinet to the next generation of Tory MPs and preside over a transition to rule by a new group.
I believe much of the Prime Minister’s problems stem from being surrounded by her loyalists in cabinet who are, unfortunately, as unideological as she is. Furthermore, her allies are generally also advanced in years and Remainers, and thus have the double problem of being disliked by both the Conservative party base and the more liberal young population of the country- the latter group having voted by much higher numbers for Labour in 2017 than they did in 2015. And while the situation in cabinet had supposedly improved since her strong advisors- Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill- resigned, the Conservative Party Conference showed that outside of the Brexiteers in the cabinet her ministers sorely lack any appeal outside of the Conservative Parliamentary party. Hammond and Rudd are perfect examples of the lack of appeal of “wet” Tory Remainers- despite being in two of the four great offices of state they could not get a full audience in the hall for their conference speeches. The cabinet must be radically overhauled to start gaining enthusiasm for the government.
Therefore, if Theresa May is to revive the ideological torch in the Conservative party and offer faces to present the young, she must promote some of the best and brightest and dispense with some of her more closer allies she feels comfortable with. Being that the future of the party is as a Brexit party, she would be wise to promote mainly Brexiteers from the newer generation. Therefore, I offer the following recommendations for promotion.
Chancellor of the Exchequer- Priti Patel. The treasury under Hammond is the part of Whitehall most systematically opposed to Brexit. It does everything it can to slow or delay Brexit and the treasury, even today, is not preparing for a so-called “hard” Brexit. As Ms. Patel revealed in her barn-storming party conference speech, at the bloated Department for International Development she is cleaning up a corrupt culture and holding people accountable. She would be the right person to discipline the Treasury. Furthermore, unlike “spreadsheet Phil”, she is a committed Brexiteer, Thatcherite, and could sell to the nation the benefits of capitalism for all- especially given her background being raised by entrepreneurial immigrants who fled from Idi Amin in Uganda. She would be a great face for Conservative Economics. I would replace Patel at International Aid by another brilliant female Brexiteer MP with parents from immigrant backgrounds: Suella Fernandes.
Chief Secretary to the Treasury– Jacob Rees-Mogg. Mr. Rees-Mogg may one day become Prime Minister- and has a massive following ready to vote for him should a leadership election arise. He is brilliant and one of the most articulate spokespeople the Conservative party has had in a long time. However, as he himself has admitted, one needs to have held a cabinet post before holding the highest office. With his extensive financial background and knowledge, he would be perfect for chief secretary of the treasury and could help Ms. Patel whip the treasury and design a successful post-Brexit economy. Liz Truss, the current chief secretary to the treasury, is a fading Cameroon star, and was one of the few ministers to be demoted after the election. Ms. Truss should be removed from cabinet entirely.
Home Secretary– Dominic Raab. Many people would assume that the next role for Raab is as Lord Chancellor given his work as a minister, on two occasions, in the Ministry of Justice, and the fact that he is a solicitor. I think this brilliant young Brexiteer is due for a higher promotion than Lord Chancellor. He would be perfect for the job of Home Secretary- not just because of his legal background- but because as early as 2014 he was proposing a more serious amendment to an immigration bill with a plan for an immigration system more akin to a post-Brexit UK than in the EU Britain. Rudd does not deserve to retain this job. Under her watch there have been numerous terror attacks and she has needlessly wasted money and resources attacking mean speeches online. Her threatening to publish lists of employers employing foreigners was further bizarre and unhelpful. Additionally, the claim that she is “unsackable” is frankly misguided. Her constituency majority is barely over 300 votes, and she is a May loyalist. I would personally move her to DEFRA, given her experience overseeing the now defunct Department of Energy and Climate Change. I would finally then move Michael Gove to back to being Lord Chancellor and sack May loyalist David Lidington so that Gove can resume his reforms he started in 2015-2016.
Party Chairman– James Cleverly. The Conservative party lacks a “cool” factor that Labour has with the young. The party has been mercilessly mocked for being terrible on social media and is seen as out of touch. Cleverly, a very intelligent young Brexiteer, Londoner, and army veteran, is one of the few Conservatives who is good with social media- as he is very active on Twitter, Facebook, and Snapchat. For instance, during the election, Cleverly was one of the few Tory MPs to launch a successful twitter trend– when he mocked Corbyn for arrogantly claiming that only Labour could “unlock” BME people’s potential. Patrick McLoughlin, the current party chairman, though a nice man and a brave former miner, ran a poor election campaign and party conference and is almost non-existent on social media. Cleverly would be perfect for recruiting the next generation of Conservative activists.
Secretary of State for Work and Pensions– Esther McVey. Ms. McVey was a minister at DWP working under Iain Duncan Smith that helped create the brilliant welfare reform of the last government. Because of the work of IDS, McVey, and others, the UK now has record employment. Under David Gauke, the current Secretary of State, universal credit has experienced problems and the cause of welfare reform is weakening in Parliament, with some Conservative MPs “going wobbly”. The dynamic McVey, raised working class in Liverpool, could fight back and defend the great reforms of the last government and help improve the system further.
Secretary of Education– Kwasi Kwarteng. There are few truly more qualified to lead the education department than this PhD and historian. Mr. Kwarteng is a Brexiteer and also understands where Britain has been before with his books on the British Empire. He would be among the most qualified to help mould a national curriculum that focuses on what Britain will need to succeed after leaving the EU. The current education secretary, Justine Greening, is frankly not doing as good a job as she should. She has not built on the reforms of Michael Gove, did not aggressively fight for grammar schools, and has backed a bizarre policy of unilaterally allowing changing gender on birth certificates and national forms- seemingly without thinking about the enormous impact that could have on areas such as religious freedom, sports, and victims’ groups.
Secretary of Defence– Penny Mordaunt. Ms. Mordaunt was a leading light in the Brexit campaign for Leave and did an excellent job as Armed Services Minister refuting the project fear propaganda being peddled by the current Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon. Ms. Mordaunt is a navy veteran from Portsmouth, and would be a great spokesperson for a post-Brexit British navy, that now contains two new aircraft carriers and multiple new frigates. Sir Fallon has had a long and distinguished career, but it is time for him to hand the reins to a new generation.
There are of course many other young bright MPs in the party deserving of promotion, but the ones identified above particularly stand out and deserve promotion. When Theresa May does decide to step down, whether in 2019 or 2021, if she has promoted young talent she will have done a great service to the party and to the nation by giving them the chance to serve the nation and show if they deserve higher office. Furthermore, even if none of the above-mentioned people become Prime Minister (say she is immediately replaced by a gray beard like Boris or Davis), they will have at least brought their energy and new, yet truly Conservative, ideas to the cabinet table and helped shape Conservative party policy for the better.
Hysterical EU Remain campaigning aside, David Cameron was a good Prime Minister because he let his ministers foster great reform through their departments. Gove massively improved British education, IDS got people working, and even Osborne helped British people and businesses by cutting their taxes; all because Cameron allowed the ministers to shape their own policy. If Theresa May retires her loyalists and promotes the next generation of Brexiteer MPs, she can still leave behind a great legacy as Prime Minister.