Rumours are abuzz in Westminster that a change of guard is due for the cabinet. While it seems unlikely that Rishi Sunak is going anywhere, other departments look set for a fresh face. Once the country has returned to a degree of normality, there are plenty of Conservative MPs, both grandees and newbies, who could reenergise the government frontbenches.
With Dominic Cummings now gone, surely the door is open again to Savid Javid, who definitely has the credentials to take on the Foreign and Development Office brief. He won plaudits during his time as Home Secretary for improving relations with the Police Federation, extending work visas for medical staff and allowing medicinal cannabis to be available for prescription.
However, he faced criticism while Home Secretary, for waiving Britain’s longterm objection to foreign executions when the US was seeking the death penalty for two British members of ISIL and since his return to the backbenches, for taking a second job advising US bank, JP Morgan Chase.
Javid’s appointment wouldn’t be without controversy, but his popularity among different wings of the party and his cabinet experience could make him a considered choice.
Then there is Northern Ireland – a brief likely to become ever more important considering the anger on the Conservative backbenches, and in the region itself, about the border checks between it and the rest of the UK. Vicky Ford, currently serving as Children’s Minister, could well be a good fit for the Northern Ireland brief. While she has only been an MP since 2017, she was raised in the region, with parents involved in the peace movement, which could offer her a better insight to the issues facing the province that some former Secretaries of State have faltered at.
What’s more, as a former Member of the European Parliament who chaired its Internal Market committee between 2014 and 2017, she has a better understanding of the EU than many of her colleagues. Her connectedness to Brussels will likely come in handy for Johnson as he’s tasked with making one of the most controversial parts of the UK-EU trade deal work.
There has also been speculation that Liz Truss could be on the move to one of the Great Offices of State – leaving the Trade brief empty. Here, could Jeremy Hunt be due a return? He’s already developed relationships on the global stage thanks to his role as Foreign Secretary and has an entrepreneurial past. The setback here is whether he’d want it or whether he’d prefer to continue in his influential backbench role. The Surrey MP has won acclaim for his chairing of the Health Select Committee.
Then, there is the question of where Liz Truss would end up. For now, it appears that if she was due a move, it could end up being the Home Office. Following the tough if at times turbulent reign of Priti Patel, rumour has it that Johnson wants to make her Party Chair. Like Javid, Truss certainly has the governmental experience, but one can’t help wondering if she’d be better suited to the role of Chancellor – considering her previous Treasury experience.
As for Gavin Williamson, his days seem numbered thanks to the screw ups with exam results last summer. He has also had a hostile relationship with teaching unions, which Johnson may want to turn a page on. For the Education brief, Johnson should consider promoting another of the 2017 intake – the current Apprenticeships minister, Gillian Keegan. Comprehensively schooled, and the first former apprentice to hold the post, Keegan is the ideal fit for a government intent on levelling up. Her career beginnings in a car factory, which progressed to roles in banking and finance, are a fine example of climbing the ladder – setting her aside from the public school image that taints the Conservative Party.
Regardless of who stays and who goes, Johnson is faced with a make or break situation that his predecessors haven’t faced. He can be remembered as the Prime Minister who triumphed and delivered his country a fresh start after unprecedented circumstances, not to mention, years of wrangling over Brexit. Or he can be remembered as the leader who failed to build back better and deliver on the promises he made as the face of Vote Leave in 2016. Those around him in the cabinet – and their performance – have a stake in deciding this.