Boris Johnson looks to please Tory grassroots with Cabinet reshuffle

Rejig moves on from hardcore Brexiteers and appeals to the party faithful

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has wielded the axe to ensure his position as Conservative party leader continues and remains unchallenged, sparking suggestions in Westminster that his Cabinet reshuffle was dictated by Tory grassroot opinion polls.

The measures will allow him to move on from the hardcore Brexiteers he appointed to the Cabinet who helped him become elected prime minister.

With Brexit now done – at least in writing – Mr Johnson no longer requires the absolute loyalty of Dominic Raab, leader of the ‘Brexit ultras’. Demoting but not entirely humiliating Mr Raab, removing him as Foreign Secretary but giving the consolation prize of Deputy Prime Minister as well as Justice Secretary, is a shrewd move. Mr Raab, a lawyer, clearly wants to stay in the Cabinet and will remain loyal but more importantly will not join the more rabid Brexit colleagues on the backbenches.

Appointing Liz Truss in his place as Foreign Secretary succeeds on several levels. She solves an equality issue of not having enough women in senior Cabinet posts and she was a Remainer who later embraced Brexit, perhaps as a realist. Ms Truss has garnered some international experience by striking free-trade deals with several countries, which is what should be hoped for from an international trade secretary.

She is an accomplished user of Twitter and Instagram, which perhaps accounts for her popularity among the Tory grassroots.

Which comes to potential crux of this reshuffle. Conservativehome.com is a key website for any Tory. It has instantaneous polling of the party members giving direct insight into who’s popular and who’s not.

The person at the top of its survey on net satisfaction with Cabinet ministers? Liz Truss with an 85 per cent approval rating (Mr Johnson’s is at less than 13 per cent).

The bottom four? Mr Raab, Robert Jenrick, Amanda Milling and, with an unflattering minus 53 per cent the unfortunate education chief, Gavin Williamson. All the above were sacked.

The appointment of Baghdad-born Nadhim Zahawi as Mr Williamson's replacement should be broadly welcomed, especially by those many thousands in the Gulf region who sit British GSCEs and A-levels. Mr Zahawi can carry over his competence in leading the vaccine programme and will hopefully bring stability and clarity to education.

Oliver Dowden was replaced as Culture Secretary by Nadine Dorries, and he instead was made Tory party co-chairman before quickly readying Conservative staff for the next general election which could be in 20 months’ time.

“You can’t fatten a pig on market day,” he was understood to have said. “It’s time to go to our offices and prepare for the next election.”

Michael Gove succeeded a sacked Robert Jenrick as Housing Secretary and was entrusted with a further key position in the post-coronavirus agenda by taking responsibility for “levelling up”.

Meanwhile, Mr Johnson, it appears, has listened to the party faithful and wielded both the axe and the wand. His position as Tory leader remains unassailable and the party faithful’s adoration with be fully repaid at the Conservative conference next month.

Ms Truss, 46 and married with two daughters, is not someone to be trifled with. She has a hard edge, strong personal armour and a resilience to make it to the top in what is still a male-dominated occupation.

It remains to be seen whether she will be a foreign secretary who will really grapple with world affairs rather than seek what is best for Britain.

For too long the UK has remained missing in action on the world stage, unwilling or lacking confidence to take up a mantle as an arbiter in conflict and setter of international rules and norms.

With any luck, unlike Mr Raab, she will pay more heed to the advice of Britain’s highly experienced diplomatic corps.

Hopefully too, unlike her predecessor she will also have the nous not to remain on holiday while a seismic foreign crisis unfolds. It is an act from which both Mr Raab’s and Britain’s international image has yet to recover.

Updated: September 16th 2021, 9:49 AM
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