In the News

Liz Truss's Cabinet: Who and Why?

Mike McCartney

5th September 2022

With the new PM now confirmed, who will sit alongside her at the Cabinet?

The unsurprising news that Liz Truss has won the Tory leadership race has been confirmed, and attention now turns to who will fill the top ministerial positions.

There has been weeks of speculation (see this story from the Evening Standard, for example), and now Politics students can analyse the key reasons why some politicians make it to the Cabinet, and some don't.

Traditionally, what factors do PMs consider when appointing their Cabinet?

There are several factors a PM would consider when appointing their Cabinet. These are some of them. It is not an exhaustive list, but these are pretty standard ones. I've also thrown in a few examples.

  • First of all, a PM will look to reward loyalty. He/she will seek to surround themselves with colleagues whom they feel will help drive forward their agenda. Mrs Thatcher once said that she was looking for '6 good men and true'. She sacked the wets and replaced them with dries who shared her ideological vision. Brown’s first Cabinet saw him appoint Doug Alexander and Ed Balls; both men were keen Brown followers.
  • PMs are restricted, however, in that they must appoint big hitters/beasts. Heavyweights such as Heseltine could not be excluded from Mrs Thatcher's Cabinet even though he was more of a one nation Tory. An American president once said that it was better to have such people inside the tent than outside. For the same reason Blair could not avoid appointing Brown since he would be severely weakened by the possibility that Brown would have campaigned against him from the backbenches.
  • PMs will also look for a balance. This could be in terms of region, so Scots and Welsh tend to be well represented under Labour PMs -- look at the existence of the Scottish mafia in recent Cabinets with the likes of Darling, Browne, etc. Major had no women in his Cabinet of chums, but for Blair at one time around a third of his Cabinet were women. Brown only had five women in his Cabinet, but appointed Jacqui Smith as the first ever female Home Secretary. May chose to find a balanced Cabinet of Brexiteers and Remainers as she embarked on negotiations with the EU. See here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-...
  • David Cameron’s position as PM was unique in post war politics in that he had to find jobs for members of his coalition party. It is noteworthy that Vince Cable and Danny Alexander were both handed briefs in departments that will be at the heart of the austerity measures, and suggested that the PM was locking in the Lib Dems so that they could share some of the blame for unpopular decisions.

Activity

Research the news on Truss's Cabinet. Who made it to the top table, and how does it fit with the template above?

Mike McCartney

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

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