Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, has attempted to regain control of his struggling premiership through a bold and unexpected reset. The recent cabinet reshuffle took many by surprise, as Suella Braverman was removed as home secretary only for former Prime Minister David Cameron to be brought back as foreign secretary. This move has sparked both intrigue and incredulity, leaving many wondering about the future of Sunak’s leadership.
After months of uncertainty and doubts regarding Sunak’s ability to lead, this reshuffle signals a renewed determination to confront the challenges ahead. Following unsuccessful attempts, such as the party conference and the King’s Speech, Sunak’s reshuffle demonstrates a boldness that few anticipated. While some may question his choices, there is a general consensus that he is finally showing his true character.
One of Sunak’s loyalists describes the reshuffle as a necessary shake-up to establish a clear sense of identity. To achieve this, he is removing individuals who were appointed to his cabinet for political management purposes when he initially assumed office. Consequently, his insubordinate home secretary and Liz Truss’s former deputy, Therese Coffey, have both made way for Sunak’s loyal supporters. The underlying aim of this reshuffle is to present a united and purposeful front, where competence reigns supreme.
With an eye on the upcoming elections, Sunak is promoting his key allies to influential positions within the cabinet. James Cleverly has been selected to lead on the small boats pledge, ensuring his continued support. Additionally, Vicky Atkins has been promoted to health secretary, recognizing the significance of the National Health Service (NHS) as a key battleground. Laura Trott, another important ally, has been appointed as the Treasury’s deputy to Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, while John Glen transitions to the Cabinet Office to support Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden.
Although the decision to bring back David Cameron as foreign secretary has captured attention, it is not without its risks. Critics argue that Cameron’s charisma could overshadow Sunak, potentially undermining his leadership. Furthermore, Cameron’s return comes with considerable baggage. From his disagreement over HS2 and the reduction of the overseas aid budget to his involvement in a major lobbying scandal, there are potential pitfalls for Sunak. The Financial Times exposed Cameron’s clandestine lobbying of former colleagues on behalf of Greensill Capital, a revelation that the Labour Party immediately seized upon.
Moreover, Sunak must contend with a dissatisfied party and ambitious MPs who question his inability to find a suitable foreign secretary within the current pool of parliamentarians. On the right-wing, concerns arise as the socially conservative Sunak aligns himself with the socially liberal David Cameron, marking a significant shift towards the center-ground. As a result, the right-wing contingent feels alienated and excluded from the party’s direction.
The emergence of the New Conservative grouping, consisting of right-wing politicians such as Suella Braverman, Sir John Hayes, Miriam Cates, and Danny Kruger, poses further challenges for Sunak. Although a leadership bid is not imminent, discussions about Braverman’s future role are taking place within the group. Some supporters believe that her departure from the government could provide her with greater influence and media coverage.
What is clear is that the Prime Minister, with little to lose, is no longer playing it safe. This reshuffle represents one of his final attempts to reinvigorate his leadership. It can be seen as a “hail Mary” pass by a leader who currently lags behind in the polls, risking further fragmentation within his party. While unity may prevail within the new cabinet, the impact on the backbenchers remains uncertain.
It is reminiscent of the teachings of Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu, a favorite of Dominic Cummings, the former advisor to the Prime Minister. Sun Tzu believed that surprise is crucial for victory, and Sunak has certainly surprised both friends and foes with this reshuffle. Whether it will bring him closer to victory remains to be seen, but there is no doubt that he has reestablished himself as a player in the political game.