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Reaction to the Blue Beyond Fantasy Front Bench

Member Views is a series of opinion pieces written by Blue Beyond members.

On January 22nd, a blog post of mine was published on the Blue Beyond blog previewing the upcoming reshuffle, assessing who the movers and shakers would be. Partly inspired by that, Blue Beyond has since conducted a poll on the ‘fantasy frontbench’ of its members, receiving over 1000 responses as members engaged in what many of us think about: who’d be in our dream cabinet. The original poll was open to all suggestions, before a second poll was conducted with a select crop of MPs nominated for each position. As a ‘fantasy cabinet’, it is not wholly reflective of the political realities of who will stay and go; it is instead who the Beyonders would like to see in each position. The full results can be found on the Blue Beyond twitter page.

Overall, the number of changes to the 20 Cabinet-attending positions (excluding the Prime Minister) polled by Blue Beyond was 10. The most striking votes were in the Great Offices of State, as members voted for the return of both Jeremy Hunt and Penny Mordaunt to the Cabinet. The number of women in the Blue Beyond cabinet has increased by one due to the return of Mordaunt, as well as the promotions of Kemi Badenoch, Esther McVey, Tracey Crouch, and Nus Ghani. BME representation in these 20 positions has increased by 3; however, there is still no LGBT+ representation despite the Parliamentary Party having more gay MPs than ever before.

When the Beyonders cabinet is compared to the rumours around the reshuffle (which I summarised at the time in my previous piece), Blue Beyonders only want to see some of these changes occur. Of those I tipped to leave the Cabinet, Beyonders only agreed with the departure of Villiers, Coffey, and Morgan –the latter certain having been confirmed by Morgan herself – while also agreeing with the promotion of Rishi Sunak to BEIS and a return of Penny Mordaunt. Despite the rumours of their respective departures, the members would keep Sharma and Cox in their positions, whilst also leaving Truss at DIT and Gove as Chancellor of the Duchy for Lancaster. In the Beyonders 20-person cabinet, there is no place for Steve Barclay, Andrea Leadsom, nor a promotion for highly-rated Victoria Atkins.

My personal cabinet composition is varied from the Beyonders poll, as I agree with 10 of their cabinet selections: Javid, Patel, Mordaunt, Gove, Buckland, Sunak, Hancock, Jenrick, Smith and Cox. The new Chief Secretary of the Treasury (if Sunak gets promoted) will be interesting, given that he and Javid appear to have already formed a good working relationship. And my selection of Patel as Home Secretary is purely due to political convenience: while I disagree with her being in the role for several reasons, she isn’t going to be moved. I personally would also break up the Home Office into three new departments – but that’s for another article.

The initial two areas of disagreement for me are the positions of Foreign and Defence Secretary. For the former, I would have Tom Tugendhat, and the latter Penny Mordaunt. Tugendhat, as Foreign Affairs Select Committee Chair, has produced a lot of interesting reports and has a clear vision for how Britain should operate outside of the EU as it seeks to build its own foreign policy. I am not convinced that Raab is a Foreign Secretary with heft on the international scene, and I am yet to see a clear post-Brexit vision from him. For Mordaunt, she was an impressive defence secretary before being removed in the formation of the original Boris cabinet, and while I am not overly critical of Wallace, she is my preference. It is also essential to get stability in such a key role. There have been six defence secretaries since 2010 – too high a turnover for such a prominent position.

Unlike Beyonders, I would also keep Coffey at DWP, Shapps at Transport and Hart as Welsh Secretary. Coffey has managed to keep the DWP out of the headlines, Shapps has been a bright spark in the Boris government, particularly in his handling of the Thomas Cook collapse, and Simon Hart has only just been appointed to the position.

My boldest choices are at DEFRA and International Trade. At the Environment I would bring Steve Barclay back into the cabinet. A strong DExEU Secretary, he does not warrant a circumstantial dismissal to the backbenches. As the environment is increasingly important to voters, it needs to return to the Gove-era, where it was seen as the only bright spark in the May government, bristling with ideas of protection, sustainability, and innovation: something key now that the UK sits outside of CAP and CFP. In contrast to Beyonders’ choice of Goldsmith, I also believe the key cabinet positions have to be held by elected members, not Lords.

At the Department of International Trade, I would like to see Jeremy Hunt in the role. A senior political figure who is still relatively young, his pre-politics experience and his time as Foreign Secretary would make him a respected figure to lead our international trade agreements with Japan, America, CANZUK, and emerging markets.

The upcoming reshuffle will be interesting in how it sets the tone for the Boris administration, both in regards to the occupants of the government positions, and any structural changes in terms of the departmental make up.

As such, I have made five predictions for what I think will occur.

Alex’s 5 General Reshuffle Predictions:

1. It will be nowhere near as dramatic as the appointment of Boris’ cabinet, which saw 17 senior ministers replaced.

2. There will be fewer women attending cabinet than before:

• Expect a lot of women to be appointed to Minister of State, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, and PPS positions, as a result of a shortage in the cabinet. This will include MPs from a wide range of intakes, from 2019 intakes such as Sarah Atherton and Dehenna Davison to Vicky Ford and Victoria Atkins (if she does not get a cabinet position, she will almost certainly be made a senior minister).

3. DFID will be put under the Foreign Office’s control – but Raab will no longer be First Secretary of State.

4. The number of ministers attending cabinet will decrease.

5. Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy will also encompass Digital as a result of the government’s AI and ARPA plans.

Alex Simpson