Home » COMMENT: Rishi Sunak is putting party before country, and it’s the right choice
Comment Matthew Paul

COMMENT: Rishi Sunak is putting party before country, and it’s the right choice

It says something about how Liz Truss might have governed, had her premiership been more durable than a ripe avocado, that through all her forty-five days in office, she didn’t once pick up the phone to talk to Mark Drakeford.

True, there are many, many people it would be more fun to talk to. Putin, for instance. Or maybe Ghislaine Maxwell. And nobody wants to make a call just to have their interlocutor scream down the line the way Drakeford screams at Andrew RT Davies in the Senedd.

But Truss can’t simply have been unaware of the existence of the devolved parliaments, so she must have been thinking that Drakeford and Sturgeon should have called her to congratulate her on her accession to power, rather than her stooping to call them. This sort of pig-headedness and refusal to compromise, when applied to the country’s finances, meant Truss wasn’t simply as bad a PM as her critics expected, but magnificently worse. Truss’s mistakes cost us £65bn (possibly the very last of the magic money) and a run on the pound to correct. 

In the circumstances, it was understandable that in selecting her replacement, Conservative MPs didn’t want to give their membership another opportunity to bankrupt us all by letting Big Dog have another bite at power, or allowing Penny Mordaunt to make the whole nation nostalgic for the competence, stability and intellectual heft of the Truss administration. Some party members are very upset about this, complaining that the process was an undemocratic stitch-up, and in extreme cases cutting up their membership cards and crawling off to dark recesses led by creatures of the night like Neil Hamilton.

The membership, to put this as politely as possible, can go and do one. Boris was their fault, the Truss debacle was their fault, and expecting that the country would tolerate having another administrative Chernobyl inflicted on it to keep the chairman of the East Grinstead constituency association happy is living in la-la land.

Having made substantial sections of the party very unhappy both by July’s regicide and the process of October’s coup, Rishi Sunak recognised –whatever the enormity of the economic challenges ahead– that turning the Conservative Party back into a governable unit capable of the exercise of power is his most pressing priority. This involves compromise, and a willingness (unlike Truss’s Cabinet of all the cronies) to draw in all wings of the party.

As a result, whatever you might call this week’s Rishi reshuffle, presenting it as a Government of all the talents is hard work; particularly when contemplating Suella Braverman’s reinstatement as Home Secretary.

Braverman’s burning contrition over sending a banal document via personal e-mail, which only last week made it unconscionable for her to continue in office, has somehow already assuaged itself. Perhaps Liz Truss –offering herself as one all-sufficient living sacrifice– brought about the absolution and remission of the sins of her whole Cabinet. Or perhaps Sunak knows that there are ninety-nine problems with putting Suella Braverman in the Home Office, but sending an iffy email ain’t one. This was not the UK equivalent of hoarding a hundred boxes chock full of nuclear secrets in the basement of Mar-a-Lago, or conducting the whole business of the US State Department, Hillary-style, on something like a Yahoo account.

Braverman is thick and comes across as being mean, too, but she continues to attract the adulation of the ERG. For the time being, having her back keeps them happy. Reconciling their desire to sink and burn small boats full of migrant children with the urgent necessity for migrant labour to grow the UK workforce is a problem for another day.

Among other stinkers. Dominic Raab returns, soiling himself again in his own mess at the Ministry of Justice. Grant Shapps (inexplicably, unless among all those spreadsheets he has some nuclear-grade Kompromat against almost everyone else around the Cabinet table) stays in government, returning to his old job as Transport Secretary. Even Sir Gavin Williamson somehow slithered back under the door of the Cabinet room. Rishi’s reshuffle looks ugly from some angles; there will be howls that all this is the embodiment of putting party before country, and the people howling this are basically right. But without the Prime Minister establishing control of his party, the country can have no effective government.

The tricky job of holding these disparate factions together falls to Pembrokeshire MP Simon Hart; promoted from his old role as colonial overlord at the Wales Office (and Welsh Nats’ Great Satan) to Chief Whip. Hart, who previously was Graham Brady’s deputy at the 1922 Committee and joint-leader of the Brexit Delivery (for which read Brexit Defanging) Group of Tory MPs, has long experience of balancing shadowy arm-twisting with play up, play up and play the game bonhomie. If anyone can keep this rabble in order, it’s him.

And if nationalists were happy to see Hart out of Gwydyr House a few weeks ago, there will have been wailing and gnashing of teeth when Sunak gloriously trolled the Welsh Government by replacing Truss’s hire –the emollient Sir Robert Buckland, whose only mistake was to think he could guarantee success by supporting all three candidates in a leadership election– with bone-dry devo-hater and bane of the Senedd David TC Davies. In the light of this appointment, the phone call Rishi very promptly made to Mark Drakeford must have been a hoot.