The reshuffle to end all reshuffles...we cover the strategy behind the shock return of David Cameron and more in this week's Who's Top Who's Not.
Top: David Cameron
The comeback kid returns! The reshuffle that was supposed to be all about getting Suella Braverman out (more on her later) turned out to be all about getting David Cameron in. As a former PM, he is no stranger to the world stage which should allow Sunak to focus on (the many) domestic policy issues.
But the politics are important here: Sunak has now shifted his government towards the centre ground. This is a sensible political decision - particularly faced with the threat to ‘blue wall’ seats in the south - but this shift comes late and with political risks; most notably that this change in strategic direction leaves the public confused as to what Sunak stands for and what his government wants to achieve. And on the biggest issue that will decide the next election, combating the cost-of-living, this high-profile return of the chillaxer-in-chief says very little to the public except to remind them of the age of austerity.
Dave’s return could be catnip to some traditional Tory voters in the shires, but this week’s reshuffle could also get lost in the electoral tide about to soak the Conservative Party as millions of voters who are struggling with the cost-of-living crisis prepare to take sweet electoral revenge against the PM at the next general election.
Middle-ranking: Keir Starmer MP
Following a difficult week for the Leader of the Opposition’s Office, a dozen shadow ministers and PPSs – including the high-profile Jess Phillips - resigned from the Labour frontbench in order to vote for the SNP amendment to the King’s Speech calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.
Arguments can be made as to whether this was avoidable, poor political tactics or lackluster party management. But despite the short-term problems, Starmer emerges as a strong leader who has set out a clear position, stuck to it, and is prepared to suffer the consequences.
Most of the resigners, especially those on the left-wing Socialist Campaign Group, will not be back on the frontbench with plenty of Labour talent selected for target seats and ready to serve in government. But don’t be surprised if Phillips’s excellent communication skills are utilized sooner rather than later.
But in many ways, this whole episode could have been avoided. Regardless of one’s views on the middle east, a vote in Westminster on an opposition amendment on wording regarding a foreign conflict that doesn’t involve UK troops, that never had any hope of passing, and that will be completely ignored by Israel is not an exercise that was ever going to have real-world consequences for those suffering in this conflict.
Sinking quickly: Suella Braverman MP
Poor Suella, it wasn’t meant to be this way. Braverman’s premature exit from the Home Office in the reshuffle came 48 hours before she could have quit over the Supreme Court’s Rwanda ruling and become the right-wing martyr she always hoped to be. Oh, what might have been.
The government’s difficulties on Rwanda may provide her with further opportunities (keep an eye out for the Sunday papers) but the tone of her explosive (not-resignation) letter to the PM has won her few new friends amongst Tory MPs who are already looking elsewhere for the next right-wing standard-bearer. Braverman’s predecessor at the Home Office, Priti Patel, is one such candidate and she already has the backing of darling of the New Conservatives Dame Andrea Jenkyns whose letter of no confidence in the PM must be getting lonely in Sir Graham Brady’s safe. Those letters are unlikely to become plural anytime soon but with the Conservative still marooned 20 points behind Labour, this age of Tory rebellion could easily reach fever pitch.