13 Nov 2023

Political Insider: Rishi’s Reshuffle – a case of Dave-ja vu

What does Rishi Sunak’s cabinet reshuffle mean for the future of the Conservative Party? What are the leading drivers behind David Cameron’s surprise political return? And what is the reaction from Labour? Our Public Affairs team provides analysis on events in Westminster today.


Today’s Cabinet reshuffle was driven largely by Rishi Sunak’s desire to remove Suella Braverman as Home Secretary. According to a Number 10 source, “Suella has gone because the Prime Minister wants a united team to deliver the changes this country needs for the long term.”

James Cleverly, who recently topped Conservative Home’s Cabinet league table, moved from his role as Foreign Secretary to replace Braverman. In a highly surprising and unusual move, the role of Foreign Secretary was given to former Prime Minister David Cameron, who was today formally awarded a life peerage to allow him to return to government. The last time a cabinet department was given to someone without a seat in the Commons was in 2008, when Gordon Brown brought Peter Mandelson back into government as business secretary.

The reshuffle means that for the first time since 2010, the top four positions in government are all held by men; Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, Home Secretary James Cleverly and Foreign Secretary David Cameron.

In other moves, Rachel Maclean is “disappointed” that Sunak asked her to step down as Minister of State at the Department for Levelling Up. Thérèse Coffey resigned as Environment Secretary, with Steve Barclay demoted from Health Secretary to replace her, and Victoria Atkins appointed to Health Secretary. Details on the Cabinet changes so far can be found below.

It is also worth noting that Advisory Committee on Business Appointments rules require a minimum waiting period of six months before ministers can take up certain jobs. This gives credence to rumours circling Westminster that Sunak is preparing for a May election by asking certain ministers to step down.

Conservative viewpoint

Mario Creatura, MHP Director and former Special Adviser in 10 Downing Street

Rishi Sunak has been Prime Minister for just over a year. In that time he has sought to stabilise the challenges facing the Conservative Party brand – restoring economic credibility, and re-establishing the perception that they are the party of competence. 

With what he’s had to work with, that’s no mean feat. Whether through his conference speech in Manchester, or the King’s Speech last week, Sunak will be acutely aware that he has not many set piece moments left with which to nudge public opinion towards the Conservatives. 

Now entering Year Two, the intention within Number 10 will be to show a Prime Minister focused on delivery – and taking the positive message of the last 13 years of Conservative rule and presenting it with unashamed pride. 

That’s what is behind this reshuffle. James Cleverly has done a solid job stabilising Britain’s reputation abroad, and so is a logical choice to do the same in the Home Office. Redoubling their commitment to ‘stopping the small boats’, and simultaneously emphasising his mission to make our streets feel safer. Vicky Atkins, Richard Holden, Laura Trott and others now entering Cabinet are all strong communicators, critically important for selling a positive pre-election Conservative vision.   

The return of David Cameron has raised many an eyebrow, but could prove to be a very shrewd move. Historically popular in key ‘blue wall’ seats, it’ll be hoped that his brand of Conservativism will be able to sure up weakened support in areas moving towards the Liberal Democrats. A socially liberal former Prime Minister, with strong fiscally-conservative instincts, banging the Tory drum in the press, could be what’s needed to solidify support in key held Home County seats, and more broadly in marginal constituencies. 

Strong media performers are being brought in, experienced administrators staying in post, all intended to deliver on Sunak’s Five Promises and project a feeling of unity and competence. 

The Autumn Statement next week will seek to secure this narrative – Sunak has a strengthened team behind him, working together to tackle the biggest challenges facing our country. Whether that impacts Labour’s significant poll lead this side of Christmas, will remain to be seen.

Labour viewpoint

Joshua Kaile, MHP Associate Director and former Labour Political Advisor

Just a few weeks ago, Rishi Sunak was telling Conservative Party Conference and the country that the political system of the last 30 years has delivered politicians that spend more time campaigning for change than actually delivering it. He went on to claim that after 13 years it is he and his Government that are the faces of change that the country desperately needs.  

Today, he appointed David Cameron as Foreign Secretary. It’s a script you wouldn’t believe if Armando Iannucci had put it on our TV screens. 

Unsurprisingly, Labour has immediately pointed out that we now have an unelected Prime Minister with a Foreign Secretary deciding policy that relate to international conflicts in the Middle East and Ukraine, who will not be able to be questioned by his opposite number in the House of Commons.  

Labour will also be recirculating accusations around the former Prime Ministers’ lobbying record since he left Downing Street, not to mention his policy disagreements with the Prime Minister on HS2 and the decision not to spend 0.7% on international development.  

James Cleverly has been praised as Foreign Secretary in recent months and therefore promoting a ‘team player’ to Home Secretary appears to be a fairly sensible decision. Although, the Prime Minister now possesses in his top team a man who held his job after election victories, and one of the favourites to replace him after the next election. It’s a risky strategy, but clearly Rishi is a braverman than most. 

The other appointments of the day had less controversy but will also be met by Labour criticism including the removal of the 15th Housing Minister since 2010 and the fact that Wes Streeting is now facing his fifth Heath Secretary since November 2021. Only time will tell how long this latest reshuffle lasts for. 

Cabinet-level changes*

Position  Former Holder  New Holder 
Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development   James Cleverly MP  Lord David Cameron  
Secretary of State for the Home Department   Suella Braverman MP  James Cleverly MP 
Secretary of State for Health and Social Care  Steve Barclay MP  Victoria Atkins MP 
Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs   Dr Thérèse Coffey MP  Steve Barclay MP 
Minister without Portfolio (Conservative Party Chairman)  Greg Hands MP  Richard Holden MP 
Chief Secretary to the Treasury   John Glen MP  Laura Trott MP 
Paymaster General and Minister for the Cabinet Office   Jeremy Quin MP  John Glen MP 

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