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The Reshuffle Sent "Mixed Messages" About Rishi Sunak's "Narrative", Says Ex-Tory Minister

Lord Ed Vaizey when he was culture minister (Alamy)

4 min read

The Cabinet reshuffle carried out by Rishi Sunak this week sent "mixed messages" about the sort of government he is trying to lead, according to former Tory minister, Lord Ed Vaizey.

Speaking on the latest episode of PoliticsHome podcast The Rundownthe former Tory MP said Sunak is a "hard-working" Prime Minister whose arrival to 10 Downing Street he welcomed. However, he said the ministerial apppointments he made on Monday, which included the spectacular return of David Cameron, exposed the "core problem" he has in a lack of clear political narrative.

Sunak appointing the former prime minister as his new foreign secretary was the headline reshuffle move on Monday, with Cameron's unexpected comeback after seven years away from British politics sending shockwaves throughout Westminster.

He was brought in to replace Cleverly, who Sunak moved to the Home Office after deciding to sack Suella Braverman as home secretary after she published an op-ed without his approval.

Sunak's decision to bring Cameron back was particularly welcomed by MPs in the moderate, One Nation wing of the Conservative party, who felt it was indication that the Prime Minister was moving closer to the centre ground in a bid to improve his electoral prospects.

But his decision to put Esther McVey in the Cabinet Office in a role briefed to The Sun as being the minister for "common sense" muddied the image that Sunak was trying to convey about his government, argued Vaizey.

"He’s fudged it," he said.

"The appointment of Esther McVey as the ‘minister for common sense’ as signal to the right that there'll still be a good, old-fashioned culture war that the Tories seem to love at the moment, does send mixed messages, and that is Rishi Sunak's core problem.

“I welcomed him as Prime Minister because he's a technocrat, hard-working, across the detail. He couldn't be more contrasting to his predecessors.

"But he lacks a political touch and a political narrative."

He continued: “If he had appointed David Cameron, and not done the ‘minister for common sense’, it would have allowed him to develop a political narrative of Tories moving back to the centre ground, they were going to govern for as many people as possible.”

A week of rows in Westminster has exposed severe divides in the parliamentary party that Sunak is tasked with keeping together between now and the general election.

On Thursday night, senior Tory MP Damian Green, who leads the One Nation group of 80-or-so Conservative moderates, accused the erstwhile home secretary Braverman of "the most unconservative statement I have ever heard from a Conservative politician".

He was responding to a Telegraph article by Braverman which said the government must disapply "the entirety" of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) and all relevant international human rights law in order to deport migrants to Rwanda.

Green on Friday morning likened Braverman's demand, which is endorsed by a group of MPs on the right of the parliamentary Conservative party, to the behaviour of "dictators" Russian President Vladimir Putin and China's leader Xi Jinping.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Conservatives believe in a democratic country run by the rule of law. Dictators – Xi and Putin - would prefer to have the state completely untrammelled by any law. As a democrat I oppose it, but quite specifically as a Conservative.”

On Wednesday, the Sunak government found itself in an argument about whether it should "ignore" the law to get deportation flights in the air after the Supreme Court ruled that the Rwanda policy was unlawful, with senior Tories seemingly contradicting one another.

Lee Anderson, the Tory party's deputy chair, told reporters "we should ignore the law" and "get the planes in the air and send illegal immigrants to Rwanda” regardless of the Supreme Court verdict.

“I’ve said it from day one, when you get to this country on a boat you are breaking the law, you are breaking into this country,” said the Conservative MP for Ashfield.

“There is a reason that every person in this room shuts their back door at nighttime and locks it, it’s because you don’t want intruders coming in there."

"The British people have been very patient with this, I’ve been very patient and now they’re demanding action. And this has sort of forced our hand a little bit now.”

Alex Chalk, the justice secretary, later tweeted that respecting the law meant "respecting the impartial judgments of our independent courts". He added: "Judges apply the law without fear or favour - a longstanding principle of our democratic constitution."

A spokesperson for Sunak on Thursday said:  “We are not simply seeking to ignore in any way what the Supreme Court set out. We respect the decision of the Court."

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