From the moment she stepped into office as the Home Secretary, Suella Braverman had been nothing short of controversial1. Given the fact that she had been sacked as Home Secretary under Liz Truss for sending a government document from her personal email, on a day she had been included in High Wycombe MP Steve Baker’s ‘BeReal’, 2 It came off as a politically questionable decision for Rishi Sunak to put her back into the cabinet as Home Secretary, meaning that in his mission to do every job around the cabinet table, Grant Shapps had a whopping six days as Home Secretary on his CV, making him the shortest serving Home Secretary in history. In cabinet, Braverman was the most senior of the ‘populist’ wing of the Conservative Party, with a laser focus on the issue of immigration, describing her dream as being a picture on the front page of The Telegraph of a plane taking off for Rwanda. Prior to the King’s Speech, Braverman had attempted to promote a crackdown on rough sleeping, describing homelessness as a ‘lifestyle choice’ and that charities should be fined if they handed out tents. This was followed by an article in The Times, that was not approved by Number 10, describing Pro-Palestinian protestors as ‘hate marchers’ and ‘anti-British.’ After a delay, on 13th November 2023, Braverman was sacked for the second time in just over a year. Her replacement is former foreign secretary James Cleverly, and taking his place in the foreign office, David Cameron.  

The appointment of David Cameron came as a surprise to many, in fact in the background of Sky News’ coverage as he exited his ministerial car, a voice can be heard saying ‘what the hell?’ Sunak had managed to nominate the former Prime Minister for a fast-track peerage in order to get him into Parliament and thus able to take on duties as Foreign Secretary. Now, the clear issue that exists here is that Cameron cannot be held directly accountable to a sitting House of Commons, as a Lord, he will only be able to take questions from the House of Lords or Parliamentary Committees. This is a huge scrutiny issue as it means that one of the most important Offices of State is not directly accountable to the House of Commons. The likely course of action with Cameron at the top of the foreign office is for him to have a junior minister in the Department answer questions on his behalf. Those ministers could be: Andrew Mitchell, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, Leo Docherty or David Rutley3. With each of those ministers representing a different area of the world, and having different roles in the FCDO, it is likely that Lord Cameron would select the most appropriate minister for the issue. Clearly, this will have been a huge question for Sunak to answer and could have been a reason for the delay in sacking Braverman and reshuffling the cabinet. It has been speculated that Sunak may have wished to bring in former leader William Hague4. This could well be the case, given that Sunak and Hague have close links owing to Hague being Sunak’s predecessor in Richmond (Yorks.) However, the appointment of Cameron has a much different effect to the idea of a Hague appointment. Ultimately, Cameron was seen as a change candidate in the Conservative Party during the New Labour years when Hague, Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Howard had all failed, which did, in the end, secure their return to power. As Sunak sees himself as the change candidate to break from the ’30 Year Economic Consensus’ that he frequently references, having someone who transformed the image of the Conservative Party could be quite useful to him.

However, there are two major issues here if this is the case. First, and most obviously, if Sunak is trying to distance himself from said economic consensus, then Cameron is included in it and he implemented it during his Premiership, therefore it can only be superficial. What Sunak can learn about an image change may, therefore, only be limited to communications and campaigns, not policy if he is so determined to move away from that policy. The other key issue that is seen here is that Cameron took the helm after 7 years of opposition and at a time after the party had had its ideological ‘fun.’ Sunak’s attempt at transformation comes after 13 years in government and as the grasp of the libertarian right begins to take hold, the cause for One-Nation conservatism is dying within the party, as the desire to be ‘right’ at any cost trumps the need to be successful at the benefit of the country. It’s easy to go down the rabbit hole of political analysis on issues such as this, but we must also look at the numbers to see what the public at large thinks. YouGov polling indicates that only 24% of people think that Cameron’s appointment was a good decision, with 38% thinking it was a bad decision and another 38% answering ‘don’t know.’5 Whilst there is not much concrete data, as someone who leaves in 2/3 Leave voting Red Wall seat, I can be certain in saying that there is a sentiment against Cameron due to his resignation and not staying the course of Brexit.

This is a problem for Sunak as he desperately needs to hold on to the votes of Red Wall seats that are bastions of the leave vote, such as Hartlepool, to remain in power. As these were voters that didn’t put their trust in Cameron, but did in Johnson, this is something that could massively spoil the trust of voters in these key seats. Whilst it is seen as a certainty that Sunak will not win the next election, this could well kill any chances of keeping parts of the Red Wall blue. However, there are some benefits to Sunak for bringing back a figure such as Cameron. Many liberal swing voters, especially in the Home Counties have been showing in polling to be disillusioned with the Conservatives, especially in the era of Truss and Sunak. Much of that vote is polled to go to the Liberal Democrats, who could potentially triple their seats in the Commons at the next election6. The return of One-Nation Conservative figures such as Cameron, and Sunak showing himself to be more moderate, could be a positive to these voters, who were overwhelmingly Pro-Conservative in the Cameron years. The biggest blow of all, however, is the fact that of 350 Conservative MPs, not one of them was good enough in Sunak’s eyes, and a former Prime Minister had to be appointed to the House of Lords to be installed within the role. This will certainly damage confidence in the party as it seriously develops questions on valence. Overall, the impact of this will not revive One Nationism, and whilst Cameron is an experienced politician who has the skills and connections to do well as Foreign Secretary, putting someone in as Foreign Secretary who cannot stand in front of the House of Commons is not something that should be done at a time of such major foreign policy issues, be that Ukraine, Israel/ Palestine, Yemen etc. With suggestions that undermine his popularity, it is also a poor strategic move from Sunak, who may only win over a small proportion of the vote.   

With the biggest factor in the debate out the way, we must talk about the man Cameron replaces- James Cleverly. After Braverman’s sacking, Cleverly went straight to the Home Office, having served as Foreign Secretary for 14 months. As a politician, Cleverly does differ from Braverman/ Patel, and is more moderate. With Braverman having soured trust between the police and Government, a fresh set of ideas were needed in the Home Office. This difference can also be seen on the transgender debate, with Braverman taking a hard stance7 and Cleverly’s being more pro-trans rights8. But in terms of policy, there is one key area within the Home Office that separates them. Rwanda. As alluded to in the introduction, Braverman had made it her mission to get flights off the ground carrying asylum seekers out of the country to Rwanda. Whilst the merits of the policy are debateable at the very least, the party had made it their headline policy on immigration, especially as their fifth pledge to ‘Stop the Boats.’ That policy clearly did not go down well in the Foreign Office, with Cleverly reportedly calling the policy ‘Batshit.9’ This has caused him issues trying to defend the policy as he has already undermined it. This is not helped by the Supreme Court ruling against the policy as being unlawful, owing to the way that it treats refugees in respect to their human rights10. Therefore, Cleverly is already on the backfoot. Prior to his appointment as Home Secretary, his management was one of consensus, with Keir Starmer and David Lammy being briefed on Foreign Office business. It has been reported that Cleverly may have been tentative taking the Home Secretary job and wanted to remain in the Foreign Office. This could well be down to the fact that he could pragmatically implement the cross-party approach that has been in force between Conservatives and Labour, especially on Ukraine and Gaza, whereas the role of Home Secretary is far more adversarial and sees much less collaboration. Whilst not part of a major faction of the party, Cleverly does seem to bring in support from across the party and is well respected. Whilst not a perfect appointment for Cleverly, Sunak has someone in the role who, despite the issues surrounding the Rwanda plan, will be able to steady the ship in the Home Office towards the general election to put an end to the politics of Braverman and Patel that have loomed over the Home Office since Johnson’s rise to power in 2019. 

One of the key movements of the reshuffle was the sacking of party chair Greg Hands. Since his appointment in February 2023, he took command of CCHQ with a focus on strong messaging. His big focus was attack messaging against Labour, with a strong focus on Labour’s last period in office. Anyone who had been on his Twitter account will be familiar with his favourite thing to post… the Liam Byrne ‘There is no money left’ letter, in fact he shared this letter so frequently, another account was created on the platform in the name of ‘Greg Hands letter counter.’ By 10th July 2023, Hands had posted it 4511 times during his tenure as party chair. Interestingly, the embarrassing Selby and Ainsty by-election defeat to Labour’s Keir Mather followed 10 days later and he did not post the letter again. Of course, it was the Conservatives’ by-election and polling performance that had led to the sacking of Hands as he was clearly unable to improve the image of the party12. In fact, the Conservatives lost seats they had previously held in by elections in: Tamworth, Mid Bedfordshire, Selby and Ainsty and Somerton and Frome in 2023 alone. It is quite obvious that Sunak was generous keeping him on as long as he did, despite the fact that Hands had refused to resign despite his party’s performance in by-elections and trailing in the polls. His replacement as party chair, Richard Holden, has a majority in his soon to be abolished constituency of North West Durham of only 1144. For a party chair to be appointed on such a thin majority is unusual as it is expected that senior members of the party should be stable in their position, and would not put Sunak in the very likely position that the Conservatives will go into the next election and lose their party chair. Holden had previously been the Parliamentary Under Secretary for Roads and Local Transport in the Department for Transport throughout Sunak’s premiership, one in which, above all else, he failed to clear DVSA driving test backlogs. It, therefore, seems that a precedent is being set within the Conservative Party to appoint junior ministers to the Chairmanship, with Hands himself having arrived from being a Minister of State for International Trade, the same role he has returned to for his fourth stint in the job. This creates an issue within the party as it downplays the importance of campaigns and communications, putting it akin with junior ministerial roles, rather than having major figures take the role, such as Hands’ predecessor Nadhim Zahawi. Overall, from a strategic perspective, Hands’ sacking was inevitable but to replace him with another junior minister with such a slim majority and no confirmed seat for the next election is equally poor strategy. However, owing to his new role, it is not unlikely that Holden will be given a safe seat to stand in. 

The final appointment to be discussed is the appointment that came at the end of the working day. Esther McVey as a Minister Without Portfolio. Whilst Alastair Campbell would have said in the New Labour days that a Minister Without Portfolio is a ‘Minister without a job.’ McVey certainly has a job. A Minister for common sense! Her job is to be ‘Anti-Woke’, at this point I must clarify that the Oxford dictionary defines ‘Woke’ as meaning- ‘ [to be] aware of social and political issues, especially racism13.The Sun was briefed that the MP for Tatton would oversee implementing the government’s ‘anti-woke’ agenda14. With the ‘anti-woke’ line being towed by Braverman whilst she was Home Secretary, and in her failed bid to lead the party in the first contest of 2022, she described how, as a priority, we need to ‘Get rid of all the woke rubbish.’ Clearly, as a strategic move, Sunak has placed her in this role to fill the void left by Braverman, which is something that could certainly appeal to the right of the party, who have ideologically come off badly in this reshuffle. However, this appointment is unlikely to make any difference to the general operations of Sunak’s government, with McVey’s main role likely to be a spokesperson on this issue, and being sent out on the media rounds to tow the ‘anti-woke’ line. 

Overall, this is a reshuffle that quietly balances power back to the centre of the party. With the return of Cameron as a big figure in one-nation Conservative circles, it means that the effect of the right of the party is certainly dampened. Where Johnson and Truss moved the cabinet to the right, Sunak has slightly reduced their impact and rebalanced it to focus more on pragmatism than ideology. However, the impact of the right cannot be understated in the party, especially considering the likelihood of the New Conservative caucus manoeuvring to install Suella Braverman as leader. Ultimately, it will not do enough to get the Conservative Party in an electable position, and therefore allows Labour to take up the general liberal consensus in Britain which the Tory right had departed from. Whilst it was only a small reshuffle, the effects of sacking Braverman and bringing the de-facto architect of Remain back into government will be felt by Sunak.