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How important is a well-balanced Cabinet for Prime Ministers? Truss v Sunak

Since the beginning of July, the UK has seen three Prime Ministers, three new Cabinets, and four Chancellors of the Exchequer. Truss’ resignation on 20th October was arguably due to her decision to appoint her loyalists to Cabinet whilst expelling her opposers to the backbenches allowing them to unsettle her premiership from behind. Sunak on the other hand has recently appointed his Cabinet and opted for a more balanced Cabinet with both opposers and supporters of his premiership being given seats at the table. This article will look at the makeup of both Truss and Sunak’s Cabinet and the way in which they appointed their Cabinets.

The Conservative Party is currently fragmented by the hard right, led by the likes of Jacob Rees-Mogg and Suella Braverman, the Johnsonites, those still supporting Boris Johnson being led by the likes of Nadine Dorries, the Red Wallers, which is formed by those that sit in former Labour constituencies, and the One Nation Tories, led by Damien Green and consisting of Tom Tugendhat[1]. The issue facing any Conservative leader at this point in time is to appease all factions of the party and keep them on their side. One way to do this is to give the big hitters of each faction a place in Cabinet so as to not disillusion the supporters of each faction as once the factions start to withdraw support it can undermine the leadership of the PM, potentially leading to their downfall.

At the start of her premiership, Liz Truss was tasked with appointing her first Cabinet. This is often a task that will ultimately define your success or failure as Prime Minister. Ultimately for Liz Truss, her Cabinet appointments proved to be her downfall (along with her Trussenomics). Truss’ Cabinet proved to be one filled with friends and ideological supporters, with “none of those who supported her defeated rival, Rishi Sunak, remaining in her full Cabinet”[2].

This method of leadership ensured that Truss had support in Cabinet but exiled influential former ministers to the backbenches. The guardian’s political commentator Peter Walker stated at the time that “the sheer number of banished to the side-lines could make her life very difficult”[3]. Just as Walker predicted once cracks started to emerge, especially around the budget, the backbenchers proved to make Truss’ life very difficult and started the calls for her resignation. Truss proved to be a perfect example of how a Cabinet of supporters that don’t reflect the different factions of the party can prove to be fatal, with Truss’ premiership only lasting 45 days.

Following the resignation of Truss, Rishi Sunak was appointed as the Prime Minister and formed his own Cabinet. Sunak opted for a more balanced Cabinet representing the factions of the Conservative Party. When appointing his Cabinet Sunak did “not exile big beasts to the backbenches where they can cause trouble”[4], as Truss did, instead Sunak opted to keep them close and even appoint some of those that did not support him to Cabinet positions. Sunak opted to keep his opposers close to him by “bringing in Ms Braverman and Kemi Badenoch from the right of the party and keeping Liz Truss’ deputy and key ally Therese Coffey”[5] in Cabinet. By doing this Sunak ensured that all factions of the Conservative Party felt as though their interests were represented in Cabinet and in theory should ensure that he commands support from the backbenches. By appointing members of the different factions to seats in Cabinet, Sunak is ensuring that those that may have been publicly critical of his premiership are controlled through the practice of collective responsibility. Collective responsibility ensures that although Cabinet ministers may disagree in private, they are publicly united and do not openly criticise government policy. This was something that Truss failed to do allowing for important figures in the Conservative Party to publicly criticise government policy, whereas Sunak has ensured that he can exert control over these figures through the means of collective responsibility.

Liz Truss’ loyalist Cabinet allowed for criticism and unrest to grow amongst the backbenches with this unrest eventually leading to her downfall. Rishi Sunak opted for a more balanced Cabinet that included all factions of the Conservative Party with the hope of ensuring that he can unite the party and prevent the unrest that brought Truss down from occurring under his premiership. However, even as I was writing this article, the appointment of Braverman was causing a stir with the opposition parties, with this issue partially subsiding, and the issue of Sir Gavin Williamson being accused of bullying and his subsequent resignation taking over the front pages. We are yet to see the full effects of Sunak’s Cabinet and whether or not his balanced Cabinet will be more successful than that of Truss’.


Edited and Reviewed by Tanish Bagga.


References/ Further Reading:

[1] The Conservative Party has broken up into factions - here is where their loyalties lie ( [2] Liz Truss: New prime minister installs allies in key cabinet roles - BBC News [3]Why Liz Truss’s cabinet of loyalists may not bode well for the future | Liz Truss | The Guardian [4] Rishi Sunak aims to bring factions together in cabinet reshuffle - BBC News [5] Rishi Sunak's speech offered crucial hints at what is to come | Beth Rigby | Politics News | Sky News

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