It’s election week, and with the Party increasingly confident Boris Johnson will return to Downing Street thoughts are turning to the anticipated post-election reshuffle.
Just this morning, the Times reported speculation that Michael Gove could be given a leading role in international negotiations at the head of a fused ‘super-department’ combining the departments for Exiting the EU and International Trade.
But even if the Prime Minister weren’t minded to make significant changes, he’ll have to portfolios to fill. Nicky Morgan’s departure from Parliament will leave the Culture position vacant, and Alun Cairns’ resignation at the start of this campaign has done the same for the Welsh brief.
Any attempt at haruspication over the first position is a bit pointless, given the volume of possible candidates. But since most prime ministers like to appoint MPs for Welsh constituencies to Cairns’ old post if at all possible, that produces a much smaller list of possible successors.
Should Johnson confine himself to Welsh Conservative MPs who are currently in the Commons, he really has a literal handful of choices. As I noted in our battleground profile for Wales, the Party entered the election holding just seven seats and two of those incumbents, Glyn Davies and Guto Bebb, have stepped down.
Assuming that the Prime Minister doesn’t just re-appoint Cairns – and even were he minded to bring him back at some point it is almost certainly far too soon – he therefore has four options. These are Stephen Crabb (Preseli Pembrokeshire), Simon Hart (Carmarthen West & South Pembrokeshire), David TC Davies (Monmouth), and David Jones (Clwyd West).
There are several reasons to think that Crabb and Hart, who represent neighbouring constituencies in the western tip of the Principality, might not be top of Johnson’s list, the most relevant of which is that they were both Remainers during the 2016 referendum. It would be in keeping with his elevation of Alister Jack at the expense of David Mundell for the Prime Minister to choose a leaver.
Which would narrow his list to just two – and an interesting geographical choice.
TC Davies has never been a minister, and has historically been perceived as a bit of a ‘wild man’. But he’s not only an ardent Leaver but has also been Chair of the Welsh Select Committee since 2010, so will know the brief. Moreover, he represents a constituency in South Wales and has reportedly been softening his once trenchant opposition to devolution, which might help.
Jones’ profile has several similarities: both were returned to Parliament in 2005, both previously served in the Welsh Assembly, both speak Welsh, both very pro-Brexit. But there are a couple of notable differences. First, Jones has served in government before, and held the Welsh post from 2012 to 2014. Second, he represents a seat in North Wales and his ongoing devoscepticism reflects a quite strong current of Tory feeling in that part of the country.
This attitudinal split on devolution could be important, not just because the Welsh Secretary will have to deal with both the Conservative Assembly group and the Welsh Government but also because it will colour their analysis of why the Party appears, a few days from polling day, set to once again fall short of expectations in Wales.
A year ago I wrote that the Welsh Tories need to break out of their rut, and suggested that they had failed to capitalise on recent political realignments the way their Scottish counterparts had done. If the sun does rise on Friday to find the air has gone out of their election campaign again, the question of how to tackle this challenge will be more pressing than ever – and the Prime Minister’s choice will shape the answer.
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