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In the News

Cabinet appointments

Mike McCartney

13th November 2023

With a lot of talk in Westminster focusing on what many saw as inevitable, Suela Braverman’s exit from the Home Office, this is a good time to look at the reshuffle.

Questions on the video

1. Who has been confirmed as a life peer by the King?

2. What position can David Cameron now take?

3. How did the speaker react when they saw David Cameron in the video?

4. According to the speaker, what does Rishi Sunak need to do?

5. What was one criticism of The King's Speech last week?

6. What is one achievement of Rishi Sunak on the foreign stage?

7. How does the speaker think the European Union might feel about David Cameron's appointment?

8. Who is staying in their current position as Chancellor?

9. What did the Prime Minister say at the Party Conference about change?

10. Why are both parties talking about change?

With that bit of background established, let's look at the syllabus requirements.

A typical short answer question on the AQA specification on Cabinet appointments is to explain three factors a Prime Minister considers when appointing their Cabinet.

A simple approach is as follows:

  • Provide reason
  • Explain reason
  • Give as many examples as you can


The first factor would be loyalty. Why? Prime Ministers will seek ideological compatibility. This is for the obvious reason that it helps them drive forward their political agenda. A classic example is Thatcher sacking the wets and replacing them the dries. Blair tried to surround himself with New Labour acolytes. Brown elevated Ed Balls since he was an ideological soulmate. Johnson initially packed his Cabinet with a “merry band of Brexiteers” ( Truss appointed an ideological soulmate to take charge at the Treasury in Kwarteng. Sunak rewarded Schapps and Rab with top jobs. Braverman was defenestrated after her Times article was published without No 10 approval.

Secondly, PMs have to seek some sort of balance. Why? I would say that UK parties are coalitions in all but name. Major had to perform a difficult balancing act by keeping Europhiles and Eurosceptics at the same table. Blair placated party stalwarts by including Old Labour colleagues like John Prescott. Theresa May presided over one of the most fractious Cabinets in history by incorporating Brexiteers and remainers. Sunak has tried to bind a fractured party by appointing supporters and colleagues from the right, such as Braverman.

Big hitters and rivals almost select themselves. Why? As the oft-quoted LBJ put, it’s better to have rivals inside the tent than out. I would contend that Wilson had the most talented Cabinet at his disposal of any premier with political heavyweights like Benn, Crosland, Callaghan, Healy and Castle. Major had to include Heseltine. Blair couldn’t exclude Brown. Likewise, May with Johnson.

That’s three. Though you can see I struggled to add any “big hitters” from the Cabinets of the three most recent PMs.

I’d also add that…

More recently social composition has become an important consideration, and more students tend to include this as an example. Why? Former President Clinton said he sought to form a cabinet that “looked like America”, and the politics of representation has assumed a higher level of importance. So, if a Cabinet has the wrong optics, it can backfire on PMs. Major’s first Cabinet, for instance, had no female members, and consequently criticised as the “cabinet of chums”. When new Cabinets are announces, media outlets often give a breakdown of gender, ethnicity and so on.

For example, much has been of the fact that women occuplied two of the four traditional big offices of state under Johnson, and that under Truss not one of the four of the great offices of state were held by a white male.

Another reason might be competence. Why? I think the reasons for this are pretty obvious. The incumbents of Number 10 want allies who have the capacity to run massive organisations with huge budgets, but they also need to be a safe pair of hands in the face of relentless media focus – especially in the 24-hour media age. Blair often called on John Reid to step in and clear up a departmental mess – such that he had seven jobs in as many years. And under Johnson there was a focus on relative levels of ability and that gaffe prone and therefore unpopular ministers were given the boot. Under Sunak we can only guess the reason that the reason why ex-PM Cameron has been given the keys to Carlton Gardens is that he is one of the few Conservative politicians with sufficient experience given the current geo-political climate.

Those following the Edexcel route will want to consider the reshuffle in the context of the PM's ‘power of patronage’ and the extent of PM power.

Mike McCartney

Mike is an experienced A-Level Politics teacher, author and examiner.

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