Sun, 21 July 2024

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By Ben Guerin
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Meet the New Kids: Who are the reshuffled faces around the Cabinet table?

The new Cabinet met for the first time on Friday morning [Photo credit: Alamy]

10 min read

Boris Johnson's long talked about reshuffle has finally happened – but who are the new cabinet secretaries and what is on the agenda in their departments?

Education secretary: Nadhim Zahawi, MP for Stratford-upon-Avon

Zahawi has been one of the government’s stars of the pandemic as minister for vaccine deployment. Confident at the despatch box and on the media round too, his promotion was unsurprising to most Westminster watchers. He is also popular with local government figures – which will be key as he leads the Department for Education on schools’ pandemic recovery. 

Zahawi founded the polling company YouGov, and is one of the richest MPs in the Commons. A keen rider, in 2013, he had to “apologise unreservedly” for after the Sunday Mirror revealed he had mistakenly claimed £5,822 in expenses for electricity for his riding school stables and a yard manager's mobile home. 

Born to a Christian Kurdish family in Baghdad, he arrived in the UK aged nine in 1976, having fled Saddam Hussein’s regime. Unlike his predecessor, he attended a private school, and has shown an interest in education since he joined the Commons in 2010, regularly contributing to debates. He was appointed as Prime Minister's adviser on apprentices in 2015, before taking up his first front bench post as minister for children and families in 2018. 

Top items in his inbox will include managing the consequences of grade inflation after the pandemic disrupted two years of exams, students’ catch up funds, and ventilation in schools. 


Deputy Prime Minister, Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice: Dominic Raab, MP for Esher and Walton

Karate black belt and former foreign secretary Raab has become the latest victim of fire and rehire: demoted to justice secretary and Lord Chancellor following criticism for his handling of the Afghanistan crisis in the Foreign Office, but given the beefed up job title of deputy prime minister to keep him happy. Raab now becomes the sixth justice secretary in as many years.

Son of a Jewish refugee who fled Czechoslovakia before the Second World War, Raab is a radical libertarian, with a special interest in civil liberties. In the first few years after his election in 2010, he came under criticism for comments about feminism disadvantaging men.

Raab is a qualified solicitor, reading law at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford and doing his masters at Jesus College, Cambridge. He worked at law firm Linklaters, before spending six years working for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, including three years leading a team of lawyers at the International Court at The Hague. He left the role in 2005 to work for then-shadow home secretary David Davis and his successor Dominic Grieve. He has previously had two ministerial positions in the Ministry of Justice, and two other secretary of state positions.

One of Raab’s immediate priorities will be work on clearing the courts backlog, with figures released earlier this year revealing there were 59,532 outstanding crown court cases, up 45 per cent on the previous year. Implementing the findings of the government’s rape review will also be high on the agenda, and continuing prison reform work. As Lord Chancellor, Raab will be on the coalface of the government’s controversial work on reforming the judiciary - with a legal duty to protect the independence of the judiciary from the executive. 


Foreign secretary and minister for women and equalities: Liz Truss, MP for South West Norkfolk

A fan of Instagram and British cheeses, Liz Truss has made a name for herself as Boris Johnson’s post-Brexit international trade secretary, consistently coming top of cabinet popularity polls amongst Conservative party members. This experience in nurturing international relationships has now led to her being the first Conservative woman to be foreign secretary. 

Born into a left-wing household in Leeds, Truss, 46, was known as a radical left-winger in her time as president of the University of Oxford’s Liberal Democrat Society. A management accountant, she joined the Conservatives in 1996, and is now seen as being on the Thatcherite-free market wing of the party. She was placed on David Cameron’s "A-list" and selected for her safe South West Norfolk seat, which she won in 2010.

She became a minister for education in 2012, and first joined the cabinet in 2014 as environment secretary. Since then she has held the positions of justice secretary, chief secretary to the treasury under Theresa May, before being rewarded for backing Boris Johnson’s leadership with the international trade brief in September 2019, as well as the responsibility for women and equalities. Although she backed Remain in 2016, in 2017 she said she had changed her mind and that the expected economic problems of Brexit had not materialised.

Truss’s in-tray as foreign secretary includes the fall-out from the Afghanistan crisis, rebuilding strained relations with the United States, and working with COP26 President Alok Sharma to firm up international commitments ahead of November’s conference.


Housing, communities and local government secretary: Michael Gove, MP for Surrey Heath 

Everyone’s favourite disco dancer has moved from the Cabinet Office to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, with responsibility for the union and levelling up. 

A former journalist, Gove’s first frontbench position was as shadow minister for housing just seven months after his election in 2005. Since becoming a cabinet secretary in 2010 as education secretary, he has only spent one year away from the cabinet table, in Theresa May’s first government, before coming back into the fold in 2017 as environment secretary. A key figure in Vote Leave, Gove has twice run for Conservative party leader in the last five years. 

His reputation as an energetic “doer” and reformer will stand him in good stead in housing, where the challenges include: beleaguered planning reform proposals; achieving the government’s target of 300,000 new homes being built a year; the removal of unsafe Grenfell-style cladding and associated cost scandal for residents; and, supporting local governments struggling after years of underfunding exacerbated by Covid. He is experienced in the union brief, and well-regarded in the devolved governments after leading much of the cross-governmental work in Covid. The Levelling Up white paper is expected this autumn. 


Digital, culture, media and sport secretary: Nadine Dorries, MP for Mid Bedfordshire

In the biggest promotion of the re-shuffle, good friend of Boris Johnson and former health minister Dorries has been given her first cabinet job. A serial rebel under David Cameron’s leadership, the former nurse  became a minister for the first time only two years ago.

Bought up on a Liverpool council estate, Dorries, 64, is a strict Roman Catholic, and has consistently campaigned for stricter abortion limits. She has experience of the culture sector, having written 19 bestselling books. In 2012, she appeared on I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here!, where she was voted out first after 10 days and lost the Conservative whip for six months as a result.

In a brief that is now closely associate with the so-called culture wars, Dorries has previously spoken out against left-wing “snowflakes” and BBC bias. In her new role, her immediate priorities include overseeing the selection of a new chair of the Charity Commission and a new chair of media regulator-Ofcom – both appointments will be watched closely after her predecessor said the former should stamp down on “woke” charities, and government pick, right-wing former Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre, was rejected for the latter.


International trade secretary: Anne-Marie Trevelyan, MP for Berwick-upon-Tweed

After her stint as international development secretary ended last September, Trevelyan is finally back in the cabinet – as promised when Boris Johnson abolished her original department last year.

Although she grew up in London, Trevelyan has lived in Northumberland for 25 years, winning her Berwick-upon-Tweed seat on her second try in 2015. She has previously been a minister in the Ministry of Defence and Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. A committed Brexiteer, Trevelyan will now have the job of overseeing the final stages of trade negotiations with Australia and New Zealand, as well as new negotiations with Mexico, Canada and the Gulf, and joining the 11-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership.


Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and minister for the Cabinet Office – Steve Barclay, MP for North East Cambridgeshire 

The last-ever secretary of state for exiting the EU, Barclay has spent the last 9 months as chief secretary to the treasury. An MP since 2010, Barclay is another Cameron "A-Lister" and went on to become a fervent supporter of Boris Johnson.

Barclay, 49, grew up in Lancashire as part of a keen-rugby playing family. He served in the army on his gap year, before becoming the first person in his family to go to university, reading history at Peterhouse College, Cambridge, sponsored by the army. He is a qualified solicitor who, appropriately, worked at Barclay’s Bank before he was elected, where he became head of the anti-money laundering section.

Active in the party since he graduated in 1994, he has organised Carlton Club Political Dinner, which charges supporters up to £1,000 for a place since 2007. Under his chairmanship, the dinner has raised more than £2m for Tory campaigns in target seats

As Theresa May’s third and last Brexit secretary, Leave-supporter Barclay was more focused on domestic preparations than negotiations. He kept the role under Johnson until the department was dissolved when the UK finally exited the EU. Prior to this, he had been a minister in both the Treasury and Department for Health and Social Care. In his new role, immediate priorities will include the Elections Bill and chairing the new cross-departmental group on labour shortages.


Chairman of the Conservative Party and minister without portfolio: Oliver Dowden, MP for Hertsmere

His second cabinet role in 19 months, Dowden had previously been best known for his role as willing soldier in the culture wars during his stint at the Department for Digital, Culture Media and Sport. Now he’ll be using that energy, along with co-chair Ben Elliott, to boost the party faithful and get the Conservative campaign machine before the expected general election in 20 months time.

Another law graduate from Cambridge, 43-year-old Dowden is well embedded in the party, having worked for the Conservative Research Department in his 20s, before returning to work for David Cameron in No 10, first as a special adviser and then as deputy chief of staff. He even played a Nigel Farage in a mock-debate ahead of the 2015 election, and was rewarded with the safe seat of Hertsmere.

He served as a minister in the Cabinet Office under both Theresa May and Boris Johnson (who he backed in the 2019 leadership contest), before becoming DCMS secretary in February 2020. As party chair, his immediate priority is the delivery of the blended Tory Party Conference in Manchester next month.

Chief secretary to the Treasury – Simon Clarke, MP for Middlesbrough South, and East Cleveland

Although not a full cabinet secretary, Simon Clarke is back in the fold attending Cabinet after having to step down from his ministerial position for personal reasons last September.

Born and raised in Tees Valley, Clarke studied law at the University of Oxford before working as a solicitor in London. He then worked for two fellow MPs – Dominic Raab and Graham Stuart. Despite only becoming an MP in 2017, 36-year-old Clarke made an impression on colleagues in his previous role as minister of state for regional growth and local government, with a passion for the Prime Minister’s levelling up agenda and net-zero – both of which he is in a strong position to take forward in his new role.

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