Who will Boris Johnson appoint as his deputy? Now that voting in the Tory leadership is well underway – with 60 per cent of party members expected to have sent back their ballots by Thursday – most MPs are starting to think more about what the next prime minister’s cabinet will look like, and less about who that prime minister will be.
There are more than enough candidates to fill the cabinet twice over, given the number of MPs who have backed Johnson. Some of their colleagues mock them for supporting someone merely because they hope he will give them a government job, but it’s quite understandable that someone might make that calculation: after all, even non-politicians tend to want to go as far as they can in their line of work and to earn as much as possible. It’s not an abnormal impulse. Some existing ministers don’t want to be ‘just backbenchers’ because they find life in the legislature boring and feel they can achieve more in the executive. Others are worried that the salary drop even from a middle-ranking member of the government to mere MP will mean they have to cut back on the lifestyle that their non-political friends take for granted. These reasons aren’t going to elicit much sympathy, of course, but perhaps a little empathy, given all of us make these sorts of calculations about moving from higher to lower-paid jobs and working for someone who is likely to promote you.
There’s also the calculation that Johnson isn’t a dogmatic politician, and has tended to approach all of his previous jobs with a rather generous attitude towards his juniors: he would be the figurehead, and leave the people he trusted to get on with the real detail. This means that if you are Sajid Javid, for instance, who was deeply frustrated by the control freakery he experienced from Theresa May, particularly when he was in the Communities and Local Government brief, then you’ll see an opportunity to make even more of your own mark on politics. Javid, incidentally, is giving a speech today setting out his vision for the economy, which would be a very useful starting point for anyone keen to be made chancellor.
But what about the people who haven’t supported Johnson? As James said on Coffee House on Saturday, a factional cabinet wouldn’t help bring the party back together. One of the posts Johnson might want to use for a unity appointment would be deputy prime minister, as this roving role can take on a number of different policy areas. An ideal candidate for this position would be Jeremy Hunt, of course, as not only would this demonstrate the kind of magnanimity necessary to keep the Johnson show on the road, but it would also work reasonably well, given Hunt is not opposed to leaving without a deal, regardless of his comments about the 31 October deadline. But then again, Hunt might not want to move from the Foreign Office.
Existing cabinet ministers have indicated that they won’t stay (and will likely be sacked anyway) if Johnson becomes prime minister. But he can’t just rely on the discipline of his senior ministers if he wants to get Britain out of the European Union and survive long enough to do something else as Tory leader, too. Whoever is chief whip is going to have an almighty task on their hands, and Johnson will have to work out a way of reaching out to his backbench opponents if he wants to keep the party together.