By Dean Duke, Account Director
Part two of the PM’s reshuffle has landed better than the Cabinet-level shake up. As the newspapers have reflected, there has been a marginal boost in the number of female and BAME MPs in the junior ministerial ranks – although their proportions are lower now than they had been in Gordon Brown’s government.
Theresa May’s appointment of nine new Conservative Party vice chairs, bringing the total number to 13, has understandably attracted less attention from voters. It may yet prove the most important move she has made this week.
May has astutely used these party political sinecures to give aspiring new MPs their first step up the ladder (e.g. Kemi Badenoch), while cushioning the blow for junior ministers who were sacked to make way for new talent (e.g. Marcus Jones). It helps that these posts come with a salary, though some are stinging at what represents a pay cut.
One of the major criticisms that has come to light since last year’s snap election is just how underprepared CCHQ was. May has rarely deigned to involve herself in party business since her election as leader. The bulking up of the Conservative Party board should help boost the political energy and impetus in the party’s headquarters. Expect some tensions though, as existing CCHQ staffers adjust to having an influx of MPs on their turf.
The portfolios May has appointed her MPs to are indicative of where the Tories see their weaknesses as being – for example, youth and diverse communities.
May scrapped Number 10’s rolling summits with business when she became PM, and the party has subsequently enjoyed less vocal support from the business community. Outgoing Treasury minister Andrew Jones now becomes the party’s business liaison. Beyond dialogue, expect Jones to focus on raising money from corporates – the Tories found themselves unusually cash-strapped at the election last year. Quiet and unassuming in the ministerial roles he has performed, Jones has a work ethic suited to the hard yards ahead.
Kemi Badenoch is a savvy appointment as Vice Chair for Candidates, as a member of the 2017 intake who can speak clearly and compellingly about why she believes in conservatism, and is already building a national profile. She is well-liked in CCHQ and MPs alike, and sits on the 1922 Committee Executive.
The appointment of Chris Skidmore as Policy Vice Chair fills some of the space left behind by Nick Timothy and John Godfrey. The party knows it needs to formulate new policies that capture the popular imagination after the debacle of last year’s manifesto, which had too many sticks and not enough carrots. This presents an opportunity for corporates to engage and put forward new ideas – particularly longer-term plans or blue sky thinking that civil servants may be less interested in.
Theresa May’s tenure as Tory leader is unlikely to last long enough to see her into the next election. With the appointment of this bulked up board, she no doubt hopes to leave something of a positive legacy for her party, not least in addressing the perception that she has regressed to a “pale, male and stale” top team.