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Saturday, Oct 01, 2022

Liz Truss: New cabinet a near-total purge of Sunak backers

Liz Truss: New cabinet a near-total purge of Sunak backers

It was gone half 10 on Tuesday night and cabinet positions were still being filled - a self-imposed deadline from the prime minister approaching with the first meeting of the cabinet at 8.30 BST this morning.

There are a handful of striking things about its composition.

There has been a near-total purge of those who backed Rishi Sunak.

The only one who I can spot is Michael Ellis, the new attorney general for England and Wales.

And even he will attend cabinet rather than being a cabinet minister, subtle though that distinction is.

This dominance of Truss campaign supporters around the Truss top table is already prompting grumbling among some Tory MPs, although we do await appointments to the more junior ranks in government.

The prime minister's desire for loyalty and building a government in her own image runs the risk of provoking rebellion down the track.

One adviser told me her top team needed to pass "the Today programme test" as it was put to me.

Could they go on Radio 4 in the morning and answer questions from Nick Robinson and gang along the lines of: "Minister, on 17 August you said this very disobliging thing about the now prime minister, how on earth can you now credibly serve in her cabinet?"

And yes, clearly some of Rishi Sunak's most gobby supporters might have found such a scenario a little tricky.

And No 10 would have found it excruciating.

But there were members of Team Sunak whose support of the former chancellor was more understated, who might have been expected by many to still serve Liz Truss at the top table - and there is no place for them.

Take Grant Shapps, the former transport secretary, one of Boris Johnson's best cabinet communicators, now on the backbenches.

Mr Johnson often faced a similar criticism in his appointments by the way - the accusation that he promoted based on loyalty rather than competence.

No 10 argues the cabinet represents the "depth and breadth of talent in the Conservative Party" and so point out five other contenders for the party leadership feature in it.

They insist too it will unify the party.

Another thing that is worth a mention - ethnic diversity.

Rewind not that many years and cabinets looked very blokey and very white, particularly in what are known as the great offices of state - the prime minister, the chancellor, the home secretary and the foreign secretary.

Now it is the complete opposite, with Liz Truss, Kwasi Kwarteng, Suella Braverman and James Cleverly.

And a final observation: churn at the top of government.

I've written here in the last few days about the turnover of prime ministers in recent years - four in the space of a little over six years.

But the churn extends to the cabinet too.

We had a long standing observer of Conservative politics on the BBC's Newscast podcast, Lord Barwell, who worked in Downing Street for Theresa May.

He made the point that there is just one survivor around the cabinet table from David Cameron's time as prime minister, six years ago.

Her name?

Liz Truss.


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