- It’s not unprecedented for a Conservative Prime Minister to fall into negative territory in our monthly Cabinet League Table. In April last year, Theresa May set a new record of scoring the lowest rating it has ever recorded – at -74. Compared to that, Boris Johnson’s -10.3 this month looks tame.
- Nonetheless, it’s a rotten springboard from which to vault into Party Conference as it begins today. As we wrote yesterday, it reflects weariness with curbs, frustration with what seem to be fluctuating and arbitrary rules, a sense that Ministers at the top of Government are divided – and a certain frustration with the Prime Minister himself.
- Liz Truss up to second in the table, from 62 per cent to 70 per cent. Dominic Raab and Michael Gove’s scores are both down but, with Steve Barclay and Truss, they are the only Cabinet Ministers to clear 50 per cent. As recently as last December, the entire Cabinet was in the black, with 18 of its members above that 50 per cent rating.
- Matt Hancock joins Gavin Williamson, Robert Jenrick and Johnson in negative territory. Amanda Milling clambers out of it (just about). On a happier note, Douglas Ross more than doubles his rating from 26 per cent to 61 per cent: his aggression and energy in Scotland are getting noticed.
- And finally: the Prime Minister has been low, though not nearly by this much, in the table before – shortly before he resigned as Foreign Secretary. He bounced back then, and could do so again. Once again, we make the point that this is much the same panel as gave him a 93 per cent rating after the last election.
With only two days to go, the itinerary for this year’s Conservative Party Conference is upon us. Much has changed, thanks to Covid-19, not least the way events have been formatted.
Without further ado, ConservativeHome takes a look at who’s doing what, and how events have been categorised – as well as what this could imply for ministers.
The first thing to note is that every MP in the Cabinet is making at least one appearance, albeit in different formats. The MPs taking part in two events are Amanda Milling, Elizabeth Truss and Matt Hancock. The Prime Minister will also be delivering a speech and being interviewed by Lord Sharpe of Epsom.
The events have been categorised broadly into keynote speeches, fireside chats, interactive interviews, panel discussions and training sessions.
Clearly the most important is the keynote speech, which the following Cabinet ministers will be giving:
- Dominic Raab (15:00 on Saturday)
- Priti Patel (15:00 on Sunday)
- Rishi Sunak (11:50 on Monday)
- The Prime Minister (11:30 on Tuesday)
Milling will also be opening the conference at 11:30 on the first day.
Next up there’s the fireside chat. There are two versions of this, one involving being asked questions by an interviewer, the other by party members. The latter is arguably a more complex task; ministers are out on their own dealing with questions. The ministers doing this are:
- Michael Gove (11:45 on Saturday)
- Alok Sharma (14:30 on Monday)
Fireside chats involving an interviewer include:
- Robert Buckland (16:00 on Sunday) – interviewed by Ken Clarke.
- Gavin Williamson (11:00 on Monday) – interviewed by Peter Ashton, a headteacher and his former politics teacher.
- Matt Hancock (16:30 on Monday) – interviewed by Patrick Stephenson, Director of Innovation and Healthcare at Fujitsu.
There’s also the “interactive interview”. It’s not obvious what makes this different from the “fireside chat”, but the ministers taking part in these are:
- Liz Truss (14:30 on Saturday) – interviewed by Robert Colville, Director of the Centre for Policy Studies.
- Matt Hancock (14:00 on Sunday) – interviewed by Nimco Ali OBE, CEO and Founder of the Five Foundation.
- Grant Shapps (15:00 on Monday) – although it does not say who will interview him yet.
- Oliver Dowden (15:30 on Monday) – interviewed by Joy Morrissey, MP for Beaconsfield (this is labelled as simply an “interview”).
Then there are the panel discussions. More sceptical Conservative members may notice that a number of fairly high profile Cabinet ministers are taking part in these. They may ask why they have not been put forward for the fireside chat or an interview – instead being accompanied by ministerial teams.
- Ben Wallace, Secretary of State for Defence, who’s partaking in the Ministry of Defence Panel Discussion (12:15 on Saturday) with other ministers from the department.
- Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, who’s chairing a discussion (13:30 on Sunday) with party members and other ministers from the department.
- Thérèse Coffey, Secretary of State for the Department of Work and Pensions, who’s chairing the The Department for Work & Pensions Panel Discussion (11:30 on Monday) with other ministers from the department.
- George Eustice, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, who’s holding a panel discussion (14:00 on Monday) with other ministers from the department.
It looks as though Downing Street has taken a decision to downgrade their profile.
Last up on the agenda are events focussed around increasing participation in Conservative campaigning. It’s clear, in particular, that CCHQ is keen to push for more female participation, with events on Female Entrepreneurs and Training, and Women and the 2021 Elections, alongside training support for young people.
- In our first post-general election survey, no fewer than 18 Cabinet members had a satisfaction rating above 50 per cent. Now, only six do.
- Of those six, Liz Truss is a fraction higher than she was (61.7 per cent to 61.3 per cent), Dominic Raab up an insignificant point (66 per cent to 67 per cent), and Rishi Sunak up to the top of the table (79 per cent to 83 per cent).
- Jacob Rees-Mogg has risen by only two points, from 48 per cent to 50 per cent, but was then tenth from bottom. Now he is sixth from top. The difference between his change in score and change in place says everything you need to know about how Cabinet ratings, generally, have fallen.
- None more so than Boris Johnson. In that post-election table, he was top on 93 per cent. Now he is eighth from bottom on 25 per cent. That’s a drop from sixth from top on 57 per cent last month – a fall of almost half into the bottom third of the table.
- Robert Jenrick is still in negative territory, and Amanda Milling now joins him. Gavin Williamson may take comfort from the fact that his expected fall into negative territory isn’t record-breaking. In April last year, Theresa May reached -74 per cent.
- The members’ panel has good record as a guide to activist voting in leadership elections, so we’ve no doubt that this month’s survey is picking up unease about the Government’s competence, consistency and sense of direction.
Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio and the For the Many podcast with Jacqui Smith.
Last week, I awarded my end of term marks for half the Cabinet. Here are my marks for the second half…
Robert Buckland – Secretary of State for Justice
A calming voice on the media, Buckland comes over as the voice of reason in a world often dominated by unreason. One of the few former Remainers left in government, he has been totally loyal to the Prime Minister and embarked on an important programme of reform in the justice and prison systems.
Liz Truss – Secretary of State for International Trade
A survivor, Truss was tipped to be sacked after the election, but she kept her job…and is now tipped for the sack again. If she negotiates a host of free trade agreements before the end of the year, it would render her unsackable. Japan and New Zealand look to be the first ones, which could be announced in the autumn.
Therese Coffey – Secretary of State for Work & Pensions
A surprise appointment when Amber Rudd resigned, Coffey is a solid performer and simply got on with the job of trying to ensure the benefits system meets the demands of the Covid crisis. She sorted the initial creaks in the Universal Credit system, where people couldn’t access the website or phone lines and neutered it as an issue. Number Ten are said to be unhappy with one or two comments in interviews but she lives to fight another day.
George Eustice – Secretary of State for DEFRA
George Eustice’s great advantage is that he is actually a farmer himself and, in this job, that helps. He chaired quite a few of the Covid press conferences without either putting a foot wrong or saying anything very meaningful. One of the greyer figures in cabinet he needs to up his charisma factor a tad if he is to be able to sell a post Brexit message of optimism for the farming and food sectors.
Robert Jenrick – Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government
Given the two big scandals he’s faced over the last few months, no-one could accuse the Cabinet’s youngest member of lacking resilience. He’s knuckled down and got on with his job, although his effectiveness within Cabinet has to be questioned given what he’s gone through.
Alistair Jack – Secretary of State for Scotland
Largely anonymous to us south of the border, Jack has also failed to fill the charisma gap in Scottish politics left by Ruth Davidson. So has Jackson Carlaw – who has now resigned. Jack needs to be getting out there to sell a positive pro-union message, but seem to be finding it difficult to do so.
Simon Hart – Secretary of State for Wales
Tiggerish and a total enthusiast for politics, Hart has been busy selling the Conservative message in Wales, in a way his Scottish counterparts find more difficult, possibly because of the way the Scottish media works.
Oliver Dowden – Secretary of State for Digital. Culture, Media & Sport
After an awkward start in the job, Dowden, commonly considered one of the cleverest people in politics, has come into his own in recent weeks. His statement on Huawei in the House was a master lesson in how to deliver a difficult message and answer questions from MPs fluently and convincingly.
Baroness Evans – Leader of the House of Lords
A warm and empathetic character, Natalie Evans is a much unde-rused asset by the government. She doesn’t do enough media, and I say that because she’s good at it and does ‘human’ very well. A popular figure in the Lords she has kept their Lordships onside during some hairy moment.
Anne-Marie Trevelyan – Secretary of State for International Development
Still a Secretary of State despite her department being abolished. Since her appointment at the election, she hasn’t had much of a public profile, but has hopefully brought some renewed rigour to a department that sorely needed it. The question is: Will the Prime Minister deliver on his promise to find a new cabinet job for her when her department is subsumed into the Foreign Office in September?
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And now to the ministers attending Cabinet. By the way, it is a travesty that the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and Leader of the House aren’t full members of the Cabinet. There was a time when Leader of the House was considered one of the top five jobs in Cabinet.
Steve Barclay – Chief Secretary to the Treasury
If controlling spending was the criteria to judge a Chief Secretary by, Steve Barclay would rate a Z, but as we all know, it’s not his fault. He could have been very hacked off about his apparent demotion from Brexit Secretary, but he’s got on with the job, and used his previous experience of being a Treasury Minister to good effect. He does a good job in media interviews, albeit possibly a little bit too much on message. He’s got a good sense of humour and should use it more.
Jacob Rees-Mogg – Leader of the House of Commons
Seems to have been neutered since his election campaign gaffe. He used to be ubiquitous in the media but has now completely disappeared from view and is only ever seen speaking publicly on the floor of the House of Commons. One of the few characters in the cabinet; for Number Ten, he seems to have become rather too much of a character.
Suella Braverman – Attorney General
Has to try harder than her predecessors to gain the respect of the legal profession. There’s a bit of misogyny here, and has had to contend with the fact that there were better qualified candidates for this hugely important job. She’s made a quiet start, but possibly got involved in party politics a tad too much, given the independent nature of the role.
Mark Spencer – Chief Whip
A popular figure with many on the government benches, he’s come under fire over several controversial decisions, not least to withdraw the whip from Julian Lewis, while allowing the likes of Rob Roberts in Delyn to keep it. The Lewis affair was completely mishandled, although the jury is out on how much it was down to Spencer or how much the key decisions were taken in Number Ten.