Last Monday’s Cabinet reshuffle caused quite a stir, with the notable ejection of Suella Braverman and the appointment of Ex-PM David Cameron as Foreign Secretary. With a general election to be held no later than January 2025 and the Conservatives currently 13 points behind Labour in even the most pessimistic polling, Mr Sunak is perhaps attempting to address popular concerns about the Tories’ ability to govern effectively.
A central component of effective governance is party unity – something the Conservatives appear to lack at present. This was evident in a YouGov poll which revealed 74% of those surveyed think the Conservatives are divided and over a quarter believe that it has become more so since Mr Sunak became leader in October 2022. The Prime Minister himself tends to be on the more centrist, moderate wing of the party. By appointing Lord Cameron whose 2010 Compassionate Conservatism was emblematic of this centre right wing of Conservatism and by removing Mrs Braverman, who hails from the far right of the party, Mr Sunak appears to be prioritising forming a cohesive, moderate government that will appeal to light blue voters in the next election.
In addition to the reshuffle, this ‘One Nation’ turn can also be seen in the recent, paternalist smoking legislation which will mean people aged 14 and below will never be able to buy cigarettes.
This is a direct contrast to the more neo-liberal strand of the party which was dominant in the 2019 election. In order to appeal to voters across the country, the Conservatives utilised the simple, stock-phrase ‘Get Brexit Done’, allowing them to successfully break the ‘Red Wall’ of northern, Labour seats.
With the Labour Party now 16 points ahead in these seats, it seems Mr Sunak is instead prioritising the ‘Blue Wall’ of Southeast constituencies where Labour only have a 4 point lead. While Mr Sunak has already received criticism from MPs such as Miriam Cates and Danny Kruger for ‘sacrificing the seats [they] won from Labour in 2019 in the hope of shoring up support elsewhere’, reclaiming these more moderate, core voters would understandably be a high priority.
But one of the benefits of including members of other ideological wings of the party in government, is that they are bound by collective ministerial responsibility and therefore are limited in the extent to which they can criticise the government’s actions. It also acts to placate these various factions within the Commons. By removing Mrs Braverman, Mr Sunak has risked alienating the far right of the party, as seen with MP Jacob Rees Mogg, former chair of the European Research Group (ERG), calling Mrs Braverman’s sacking a ‘mistake’.
Mrs Braverman herself has since released a scathing open letter accusing the Prime Minister of having ‘no appetite for doing what is necessary’, referring to his approach to immigration. A YouGov poll found that over half of those surveyed thought Rishi Sunak was not in control of the Conservative Party and such open criticism is likely to worsen this perception.
Polling just four days before the reshuffle had the Conservatives earning less than 25% of the vote. Could this notable turn towards the centre ground change that?
Image: Sergeant Tom Robinson RLC via Wikimedia Commons