There are 29 members of the Commons and the Lords speaking from the podium at conference. Four shadow cabinet members are not — Lord Strathcylde, Lady Anelay, Patrick McLoughlin and Mark Francois. We shouldn’t read too much into who is not speaking. The Leader of the Lords and the Chief Whips in the Lords and the Commons are not regular conference turns and there is an obvious reason why the Tories don’t walk to talk about Europe. What might be more significant is that one person who is on the front bench but not in the Shadow Cabinet has got a slot, Maria Miller — suggesting that the party hierarchy rate her communication skills.
But the 29 speakers beg the question of who won’t make it into Cabinet. Brown’s bloated Cabinet is still at 23 significantly smaller than the shadow Cabinet. And if Cameron is serious about cutting the Cabinet down to 20 as he has been hinted, a dozen current members of the Shadow Cabinet would have to miss out. Obviously, this would be more if Cameron decided to promote anyone from the new intake — Nick Boles being a prime contender — or bring back some of those with experience in government from before, think Peter Lilley and his ilk. This is another tricky little party management problem for Cameron. Disappointing 12 senior colleagues isn’t the best way to start off your premiership.
One of the interesting side-shows in Manchester this week will be to see who advances their case and who harms theirs. So far, I reckon there are only a dozen people who can be totally confident they will be in the Cabinet. By the end of the week, that number might have grown.