If anyone were to steal the headlines from the new Prime Minister, it had to be Boris Johnson. The bumbling, ham-fisted former Mayor of London was made Foreign Secretary this week, to the dismay of some of Britain’s closest allies. Prominent politicians in France, Germany, the USA and Sweden, to name but a few, have already voiced their concerns about his appointment. Having led the Leave campaign to victory using a mixture of empty jingoism and thinly-veiled racism (note his description of Barrack Obama as part-Kenyan), the Johnson brand has morphed from amusing sideshow to toxic narcissist. In an apparent attempt to constrain Boris, the new government will feature two new departments.
David Davis returns from the wilderness as Brexit Secretary – officially Secretary of State for Exiting the EU – whilst disgraced former Defence Secretary Liam Fox will head up the new Department for International Trade. By diminishing the role of the Foreign Office in such a way, Theresa May has cleverly clipped Boris’ wings whilst having him in Cabinet keeps his sizeable following on the PM’s side. Perhaps as significantly, Amber Rudd’s appointment as Home Secretary – replacing May herself – means that, for the first time in British history, two of the four ‘great offices of State’ are held by women. Hardly a bastion of gender equality, the Conservative Party has beaten Labour at its own game. The latter is of course yet to have a female leader.
Long seen as a ‘safe pair of hands’, Mrs May shocked many with the radical shake-up of Cabinet she has overseen. David Cameron’s ‘Notting Hill set’ have been all but eradicated, making way for a new coalition of market liberal Leave campaigners and ‘One-nation’ social democrats. Amongst those deemed surplus to requirements were (perhaps ironically) George Osborne and former Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan. Osborne, Cameron’s number two throughout his time as Tory leader, was told in an apparently brutally quick sacking that his performance as Chancellor had simply not been good enough. His role as chief-scaremonger for the Remain campaign also made him a toxic electoral asset. Former Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond takes over at the Treasury; perhaps a poisoned chalice in Brexit Britain.
Loughborough MP Nicky Morgan was one of a number of Cameron’s ministers known to be phenomenally unpopular with the professions for which they were responsible. However, given that Jeremy Hunt has remained as Health Secretary despite overseeing the first emergency care walk-out in the history of the NHS, Morgan can count herself unlucky. Replacing her, Justine Greening has already made headlines by openly discussing a repeal of the ban on new grammar schools. Such a move would please Tory members and backbenchers alike, as well as the new PM, herself a grammar school girl.
May has been defiant in opposing calls for a snap General Election despite warnings should could suffer the same fate as Gordon Brown. The last Labour PM also enjoyed a coronation rather than contest for power and fatally passed up the opportunity to call an early election. The Conservatives are understandably adamant that they have a mandate to lead until 2020 whilst all opposition parties are, equally understandably, calling for a return to the polls. Notably though, the mandate which May’s Cabinet will cling to amid such calls prescribes a fundamentally different programme for government to the one set out by the PM in her first speech outside No. 10.
The 2015 Tory manifesto rested on austerity economics, slashing migration, and continued ‘reform’ (a code-word for privatisation) of public services. In her Downing Street debut, Mrs May listed a number of social injustices she wished to tackle, from the treatment of ethnic minorities in the criminal justice system to the gender pay gap. May would clearly like this strong ideological message, alongside the efficiency and resilience which saw her become the longest serving Home Secretary for fifty years, to be the defining features of her premiership. However, the early years, and perhaps entirety, of her time as PM will be dominated by Brexit. The sheer scale of the task of disentangling UK/EU relations will supersede all the ambitions, all the personalities, and all the divisions within our new government.