The final shuffle of the deck – Sunak’s election team

Monday’s reshuffle, widely expected to be Rishi Sunak’s last before the next general election, began as many people expected. Home Secretary Suella Braverman was removed from her role following the publication of an incendiary article in the Times which, by Downing Street’s own admission, was not approved by the Prime Minister’s team.

What happened next shocked almost everyone: former Prime Minister David Cameron stepped out of his car and walked into 10 Downing Street, seven years after leaving office following the Brexit referendum. His desire to serve as Foreign Secretary was known as far back as 2018, but his appointment was a bold move from the Prime Minister, though not without risks.

Against the backdrop of an increasingly volatile world, appointing Cameron, who enjoys personal relationships with many of the key players, seems like a shrewd and pragmatic step. However, given Sunak’s efforts mere weeks ago at the Conservative conference to present himself as the change candidate, appointing a former leader suggests a continuation of the status quo. Cameron’s perceived centrism has also been deeply unpopular with the right of the party, bruised by Braverman’s removal.

More widely, cabinet-level changes saw Sunak allies take their seats at the top table for the first time: Laura Trott became Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Richard Holden became Chairman of the Conservative Party, and Victoria Atkins is now leading the Health and Social Care Department. It did not go unnoticed that some of these appointments had worked for Cameron himself as advisors – further proof for some of a tack to the centre.

Meanwhile, some longer-serving ministers, most notably Thérèse Coffey, the now former Secretary of State for the Environment, stood down of their own accord.

The result is a government more closely modelled in Sunak’s own image, with a focus on competence and stability. A tranche of MPs who were elected to Parliament more recently and are taking their first step on the ministerial ladder also presents an opportunity, with enthusiastic new ministers keen to demonstrate they can bring fresh thinking to the table.

This shows that this is still a government looking for fresh ideas and solutions that it can present to the country.

Which makes it crucial for organisations to engage.

Sunak is likely to go long and call an election later in 2024. This means that, whatever the polls, current ministers are here to stay for some time yet, and with many new faces there’s a great opportunity to engage, and influence. And with the King’s Speech last week setting a clear direction for Sunak’s government, businesses would do well to consider how their priorities align with those of this Government.

Sunak has presented a programme which focusses on a few different themes. Some address significant policy challenges, such as making provision for self-driving cars and tackling digital monopolies. Other pieces of proposed legislation speak to Sunak’s passion projects, like the progressive smoking ban.

Finally, he doubled down on his new approach to net zero, with measures like increased fossil fuel exploration in the North Sea.

Not every bill will make it onto the statute book, so it’s crucial for businesses to identify and focus on the pieces of proposed legislation that will materially impact their operating environment. Clear advice, counsel and monitoring will make a huge difference in the next twelve months.

There is also now a greater cadre of experienced former ministers on the backbenches. They will continue to be a source of influence over the Government and, unshackled by the constraints of ministerial office and free to pursue their own areas of interests, will prove important targets for engagement and recruitment as advocates for the issues you wish to pursue.

With possibly a year to run until the country next goes to the polls, a reshuffle poses opportunities and challenges for all. Businesses are well-advised to consider how their strategies might change and adapt to face this new reality.

If you’d like to have an informal chat about what the reshuffle means for the upcoming general election, and building a public affairs programme for your business in the run-up, please get in touch with the team on [email protected].