Shortly after 6pm on Wednesday 13th July 2016, Prime Minister Theresa May stood outside 10 Downing Street to speak to the nation. After nearly three weeks of political chaos, uncertainty, and fear, Mrs May’s speech was a moment of clarity and reassurance. Promising recognition and hope for those often marginalised by the government, May pledged to create a fairer society. But how have her Cabinet choices matched up to this initial promise?
For a start, the enormously unpopular Nicky Morgan and Michael Gove have been ousted. Loathed by teachers from Land’s End to John o’ Groats for their draconian – and utterly clueless – approach to education, it won’t have been a difficult decision for May to dismiss them. Replacing Morgan is Justine Greening, who also takes on the role of Minister for Women and Equalities. Having revealed last month that she is in a “happy same-sex relationship,” Greening should be ideally placed for this role, even if her credentials for Education Secretary are less apparent.
Gove’s successor as Justice Secretary, Liz Truss, enters May’s Cabinet with a slightly less glossy reputation. Often criticised for her stubbornness when leading the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs department, how Truss adapts to her new role remains to be seen. It should be noted however that Michael Gove, also known for his steadfast and ideologically driven ideas, was far more well received as Justice Secretary than he was during his disastrous stint in the Education department, so a similar outcome may lie ahead.
Appointing Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary, one of the prestigious Great Offices of State, is baffling to say the least. Known worldwide for his gaffes and (endless) foot-in-mouth moments, Johnson’s appointment somewhat overshadowed the rest of the selection and sparked baffled amusement from political figures around the globe. Johnson’s strength has always lay in his ability to charm with his ‘bumbling Englishman’ act. Unless he can up his game, however, this won’t get him far beyond the initial pleasantries. International diplomacy is a complex art, and one which the ‘Boris’ character seems thoroughly unsuited for. By forcing him to either grow up or get out, this may well be a shrewd move by May to neutralise a very disruptive force.
If any role was in need of a safe pair of hands, the Chancellor of the Exchequer was it. George Osborne, though clearly an intelligent and talented man, often seemed like something of a square peg in a round role for the six years he was in the job. Incoming Chancellor Philip Hammond can hardly be called the most charismatic man in Westminster, but arriving with a degree in Economics already sets him apart from his predecessor. With a relatively successful career in the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign Office behind him, Hammond will bring a sense of professional confidence that will hopefully translate into economic confidence.
For the most part, the rest of the Cabinet is fairly unremarkable, particularly at this early stage. Amber Rudd, the new Home Secretary, is very much an unknown quantity, making the leap from one year in charge of Energy and Climate Change. May’s leadership opponent Andrea Leadsom has been given Environment Secretary, whilst fellow ‘Brexiteer’ David Davis is in control of the Department for Exiting the European Union. The one sticking point, perhaps, is the decision to keep Jeremy Hunt in place as Health Secretary. The downright hatred for him among medical professionals is well documented, so unless May takes the view that he should sort out his own mess, it seems to be quite an irresponsible decision.
For the most part, the new Cabinet seems, though not perfect, a competent selection. At the very least, Theresa May is not the type to suffer fools gladly, and is likely to get rid of anyone whom she deems a liability. That said, we’re not out of the woods yet. The Labour Party is in complete disarray, Lib Dem influence is less that minimal, and the SNP – despite lobbying for the status of official opposition – can only speak for Scotland. A strong, united opposition is needed both to reassure those who feel unable to put their trust in the Conservatives and to reinforce the legitimacy of May’s government. Even though May has been reaching out to those on the left of the political spectrum, with nobody in place to hold the government to account there will be little incentive for her to stand by these pledges if they start to prove difficult.
It’s far too early to proclaim Theresa May as the saviour of the UK, but it’s just as early to write off the next four years. May’s Cabinet has, bar a couple of duds, demonstrated a desire for a fresh take on the way this country is run. We have a leader whom we can be proud to have representing us on the world stage. She is highly competent and resolute and will in no way be an embarrassment when standing beside other world leaders.
At the very least, after the events of the last month, a little optimism won’t do any harm.