The Daily Telegraph
A Cabinet reshuffle that smacks of desperation rather than innovation
Rishi Sunak apparently sacked Suella Braverman as Home Secretary because he “wants a united team to deliver the changes this country needs for the long term”.
Yet by disenfranchising one of the party’s most vocal Right-wingers, the Prime Minister has dangerously widened the chasm that has long divided this broad political church.
The fact of the matter is that Tories such as Braverman aren’t even practising the same religion as those on the Conservative Left like Caroline Nokes, described by some as a Tino (Tory In Name Only).
So while his newly reshuffled Cabinet might now be “united”, Team Tory certainly isn’t, let alone the wider Conservative family, with members so disillusioned with the Government, the majority could barely bring themselves to vote in recent local elections and by-elections. The latest Opinium polling puts the Tories on 26 per cent, 17 points behind Labour on 43 per cent.
A split that has existed since the days of the Maastricht rebellion was blown apart during the Brexit wars, when the European Research Group (ERG), once chaired by Braverman, would regularly find itself at odds with the so-called “wets” of the “One Nation” caucus. Braverman’s sacking is not only going to anger her Common Sense Group core supporters such as John Hayes, New Conservatives such as Miriam Cates and Danny Kruger but also Boris-backing Leavers long frustrated with their own Government’s seeming inability to maximise Britain’s post-brexit opportunities.
Although critics claim Braverman isn’t that popular in the party, citing the fact that she didn’t muster enough votes to make it through to the third round of the July 2022 leadership race, she retains a support base that helped to propel Liz Truss to power. Sunak’s decision to appoint Braverman as Home Secretary in October 2022 was seen as a way of placating her allies on the Right – as well as providing the Prime Minister with a convenient attack dog-come-scapegoat for the Government’s most controversial policies, like Rwanda.
Like Priti Patel before her, it is not inconvenient for a Prime Minister desperate to maintain his public popularity to have a Home Secretary copping the majority of the flak on social media.
Many will question the timing of this reshuffle, however. With the Supreme Court due to rule on the Rwanda plan tomorrow, Sunak was facing a dilemma. Were the Government to lose with Suella still in post, she would inevitably call for Britain to leave the ECHR, once again putting her at odds with the Prime Minister. Yet were the Government to win their appeal then it would have strengthened Braverman’s position and made her much more difficult to sack.
Only a month ago, Sunak and his Cabinet were setting out their agenda at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester. Now the public is being told that it is “all change” again – less than a year out from a general election. Voters could be forgiven for wondering if it is all a case of too little, too late, with the appointment of David Cameron as Foreign Secretary smacking of desperation rather than innovation.
Sunak has tried to reposition himself as the “change” candidate, but those on the Right of the party are likely to view the return of Cameron as confirmation that this Government represents nothing more than centre-left establishment continuity.
Little wonder, then, that one veteran Tory was moved to remark yesterday: “This is now looking like a replica of the final days of Major.” The parallels are plain to see.
In the run up to the 1997 general election, John Major was well behind Labour in the polls, contending with a moderate Left-wing rival and coming under repeated friendly fire from Right-wingers, who he famously denounced as “b-----ds” for their disloyalty over Europe.
The long-serving backbencher added: “I used to say then that when the ship is heading to the rocks, lightening the load by throwing people overboard doesn’t work, try turning the tiller instead.”
Clearly No10 has decided that the best electoral strategy is to pivot away from the Right – with the prospect of a Nigel Farage Reform resurgence looking less likely with his imminent I’m A Celebrity debut.
Make no mistake, though, this is a moment of great jeopardy for the Prime Minister, with Braverman now outside the proverbial tent, aiming inwards, supported by similarly testy Tories likely to be irritated by a reshuffle that doesn’t seem to be offering many benefits.
The phrase “keep your friends close, and your enemies closer” could have been invented for politics. In dispensing with his nemesis, Sunak is trying to look tough. But as Major found to his peril, you risk being weakened if you anger adversaries in a party with such a long history of parricide.
‘When the ship is heading to the rocks, throwing people overboard doesn’t work, try turning the tiller’