As Labour continues the post-election round of self-flagellation in search of a new leader and direction, most returning Tory MPs have only one thing on their mind: the impending reshuffle.
Tipped to happen in the first two weeks of February, the only questions are who is likely to get the heave-ho, and whether Dom Cummings’ much-hyped plans to reduce the number of faces around the table will come to anything.
Home secretary Priti Patel and chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove flanked Boris Johnson during yesterday’s PMQs. This was no accident. The pair, who were critical players in the Vote Leave campaign, are expected to stay put.
Foreign secretary Dominic Raab and justice secretary Robert Buckland will surely also be keeping their places in return for loyal service. So too will chancellor Sajid Javid, the sole minister to be given a permission slip to attend Davos. He may well have been chided by the panel host for trotting out the government’s lines ad nauseum during the morning’s discussion — but boringly on-message is what every Prime Minister loves to hear.
What Number 10 is less keen on is people going their own way, especially if it results in negative publicity. With that in mind, leader of the Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg — last seen in the wild at the start of the election implying that Grenfell victims lacked common sense — is viewed as on borrowed time.
Attorney general Geoffrey Cox is said to be eyeing a return to private practice (convenient timing given that he has butted up against a number of colleagues), while culture secretary Nicky Morgan is planning to step down.
With DexEU being culled, Brexit secretary Steve Barclay will lose his cabinet role, and international trade secretary Liz Truss and business secretary Andrea Leadsom could suffer a similar fate. Other names on people’s lips are work and pensions secretary Therese Coffee and environment secretary Theresa Villiers.
No doubt Boris Johnson will have an eye on diversity – not just reflecting the country in terms of gender and race but geography too.
Victoria Atkins and Lucy Frazer are in line for promotions, while Penny Mordaunt is tipped to make a return.
PPS Rachel Maclean and Bim Afolami are among those rumoured to be earmarked for a junior ministerial role, and Rishi Sunak could jump from minister to secretary of state level.
Ultimately, February’s reshuffle is not expected to be the Valentine’s Day massacre touted in the immediate aftermath of the election. However, backbenchers will be looking at it, not just for their own career goals, but also to better understand the kind of party Johnson wants to shape over the next five years.
Will his top team be dominated by free-market Thatcherites or “pale blue” interventionists? Backbench Tories — the PM’s only threat in the medium-term future — are watching.