Exeter, Devon UK • May 22, 2024 • VOL XII

Exeter, Devon UK • [date-today] • VOL XII
Home Features The Cabinet Fact File: Downing Street

The Cabinet Fact File: Downing Street

5 mins read
Image: Garry Knight

Our Features writers review the lives and careers of senior members of Boris Johnson’s Cabinet.

Dominic Raab – by Adam Robertson Charlton

The son of a Jewish immigrant who fled Czechoslovakia after the Munich Agreement, Dominic Rennie Raab was raised in bucolic Buckinghamshire, separated from London by the Colne Valley. A karate blackbelt, he competed for 17 years, culminating in a call up for the UK squad. Though some Conservative MPs might be accused of not knowing how the other half live, this cannot be said of Raab, who attended both Oxford and Cambridge University.

Having studied law, he pursued a career as an international lawyer, taking a position at the Hague in 2003, prosecuting war criminals like Slobodan Milosevic, Ravadan Karadzic and Charles Taylor. In 2006, he became chief of staff for David Davis – the man not quite good enough to be named twice – who was the Conservative home affairs spokesperson in opposition. Four years later, he was elected MP for Esher and Walton, an indelibly blue seat on the outskirts of London. Once a member of parliament, Raab’s rise was steady, with a single demotion at the Ministry of Justice when Theresa May became prime minister. Although this move was sold as May merely “freshening up”, Raab had previously attracted her ire for describing feminists as “obnoxious bigots”.

Despite this, the permanent state of disintegration that came to define May’s administration meant that Raab was soon on the rise again, becoming junior housing minister, before replacing his old boss, David Davis, as minister for Brexit. There he quickly achieved notoriety for refusing to vote for his own Brexit deal; an act of mental jujitsu described as complex and perplexing by fellow martial artists. Raab subsequently resigned. An ardent Brexiter, he came sixth in the Tory leadership contest. One wonders whether, just as May made Johnson foreign secretary to keep a rival out of the country, similar considerations affected Johnson’s decision to make Raab Britain’s top diplomat.

Priti Patel – by Emma Hussain

Current Home Secretary Priti Patel has made the headlines her fair share of times in her career. Raised by Ugandan-Gujarati parents who came to North London just before all Asians were expelled from Uganda in 1972, Patel joined the Conservative Party as a teenager and cites Margaret Thatcher as her political heroine. 

Unlike many in the Tory party, who (opportunistically or nobly, depending on your point of view) switched from a Remain position to a begrudging Leave stance following the 2016 referendum, Patel has been a hard-line Eurosceptic for her entire career. Between 1995 and 1997, she left the Conservatives to join Referendum, a single-issue party calling for a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU. 

After unsuccessfully contesting for the Nottingham North constituency in 2005, Patel was placed on an A-list of promising candidates put together by then-Tory leader David Cameron. Upon her 2010 election in the safe-seat of Witham, Patel became a prominent member of the ‘Class of 2010’, Britain’s New Right. If the Thatcher fangirling hadn’t already signalled it, it’s here that Patel’s reputation as an out-and-out right-winger shines through. The Class of 2010 have critiqued workplace productivity in the UK, advocated shrinking the welfare state, and been tough on law and order – Patel has spoken in favour of reintroducing the death penalty. 

Patel was infamously appointed International Development Secretary in 2016, despite having previously stated her view that the department should be scrapped. She emphasised a trade-not-aid strategy of development (unsurprisingly, based on her personal ideology). In November 2017, the BBC discovered that Patel had attended up to a dozen meetings with senior diplomats in Israel without informing the Foreign Office. While PM May initially let her off with a slap on the wrist, Patel was ultimately forced to resign, accused of breaching the ministerial code that binds all government ministers. Many see Patel’s welcome back to the cabinet, particularly in the high-profile position of Home Secretary, as evidence that there are no consequences for poor conduct in politics.

Gavin Williamson – by Jack Watts

Gavin Williamson was elected to the House of Commons as the MP for South Staffordshire in the 2010 general election that saw the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties forge their coalition government. Since his election, Williamson’s political career has accelerated like few others, though only recently have his responsibilities thrown him into the spotlight. A year after his election, he was made Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Minister of State for Northern Ireland. Less than a year later, he was PPS to the Secretary of State for Transport, and then he was made PPS to the Prime Minister, David Cameron, in 2013.

After working as May’s Leadership Campaign Manager, Williamson was appointed as Chief Whip in 2016 before being promoted to Secretary of State for Defence in 2017, following the resignation of Michael Fallon. Here, Gavin truly made a name for himself and advanced his political career. He supported the controversial Saudi-led intervention in Yemen despite the concerns of several human rights organisations. He met with a previous minister from Vladimir Putin’s administration in return for a large donation to the Conservative party. He prematurely announced he would be sending a new aircraft carrier to the Pacific, prompting the Chinese government to cancel trade talks with the UK.

Williamson’s actions earnt him praise from international governments and officials, including the Russian Defence Ministry statement that Williamson spoke like a “market wench” with “severe intellectual impotency”. Williamson’s most brilliant moment of his career was, however, yet to come.

In May 2019, Theresa May claimed to be confident that Williamson was responsible for leaking sensitive information from the National Security Council and that she had ‘lost confidence in his ability to serve in his role’. Disputing any claim of improper behaviour, Williamson refused to resign when asked and was instead sacked by May. Luckily for Williamson, though Boris Johnson may not believe in second referendums, he does indeed believe in second chances. Williamson has returned to the front bench as Secretary of State for Education, where the most sensitive information he could leak would be the answers to the GCSE maths exam.

Michael Gove – by Adam Robertson Charlton

Michael Gove has been an installation of Conservative government since the moment that it failed to win a majority in 2010. Despite being highly ideological, he has displayed a surprising resilience, bouncing between the departments of government with all the rubberiness suggested by his facial features. Raised in East Scotland to adoptive parents, Michael Gove – previously Graeme Logan – attended Oxford University before becoming a journalist for The Times. He was elected a Conservative MP for the unassailably safe seat of Surrey Heath in 2005, and just two years later became part of David Cameron’s shadow cabinet.

Upon entering government, Gove became minister for education. Unlike many ministers, he displayed a keen interest in the area before taking up the position, and endeavored to radically change the English educational system.  He was instrumental in hiking university tuition fees and restructuring secondary school exam practices. In 2013, the National Association of Head Teachers past a no confidence vote in him, followed by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, the National Union of Teachers, and the Union of Women Teachers. Gove’s flagship policy was the mass expansion of academies; conglomerate schools that set their own curriculum, despite being state funded. Though few education secretaries make themselves popular among educators, the breadth and depth of dislike for Gove among academics, educators, and students set him apart from his predecessors.  

Largely because of this, Cameron made him Treasury chief whip in 2015, then lord chancellor. He was a key player in the Tory Party triumvirate, alongside Cameron and George Osborne. Yet he split with both by campaigning to leave the EU, before splitting with his new ally – Boris Johnson – by challenging him in the 2016 Conservative Party leadership contest, handing Theresa May victory. He served as environmental secretary under her, before again vying with Johnson for the top job.  Given the circumstances, his appointment as cabinet office minister surprised some, but with him, Johnson, and Dominic Cummings ensconced in Downing Street, the Brexit Band is well and truly back together.

Ben Wallace by Jack Watts

Ben Wallace’s career did not begin in politics. Wallace attended Royal Military Academy Sandhurst aged 19 before being commissioned into the Scots Guards, where he served for 7 years from 1991 to 1998. During his time in the Scots Guards, Wallace was deployed both at home and abroad, serving in Northern Ireland, Cyprus, Belize, and London, serving in a range or roles including as a company commander. Wallace’s military career was distinguished, with him being mentioned in dispatches only a year after being commissioned into the army.

Wallace left the military to begin his political career and was successfully elected as a Conservative MSP in 1999. Serving here only four years, he resigned to contest an election to be a member of parliament in England and was elected as Member of Parliament for Lancaster and Wyre in 2005. This election saw the seat turn blue after having been held by labour for the eight years since it was created as a constituency.

For the five years of Wallace’s parliamentary career with the Conservatives in opposition, Wallace remained active in both domestic and foreign affairs: he was both Shadow Minister of State for Scotland and Chairman of the British-Iranian Parliamentary Group, the latter if which he held from 2006 to 2014. It is in these matters that Wallace has drawn sustained criticism. In a letter to his constituents in 2015, Wallace boasted that he had probably visited Iran “more than any other parliamentarian”.

Upon the Conservatives first gaining power in the House of Commons in their coalition with the Liberal Democrats in 2010, Wallace was appointed Parliamentary Private Secretary to Ken Clarke, first in his role as Justice Secretary and later in his role as Minister without Portfolio. During this time, Wallace rejected an offer to become a Lord Commissioner of the Treasury in order to remain Clarke’s PPS. In 2014, Clarke returned to the backbenches, and Wallace was made a Minister of State for Security.

Often, people ask for politicians with real life experience to be in positions of power. Ben Wallace, a man who has served in the armed forces, has now been placed in charge of the nation’s defence. His first-hand experience will no doubt lend itself well to the role, however long he holds it.

Sajid Javid – by Emma Hussain

After finishing fourth in the Conservative leadership contest earlier this year, Sajid Javid has received his biggest promotion yet: to Chancellor of the Exchequer. Javid was already the first person of Asian descent to hold one of the great offices of state, thanks to his tenure as Home Secretary under Theresa May. Javid is an Exeter alumnus who joined the Conservative Party while he was here studying Economics and Politics in the late 1980s. Prior to becoming MP for Bromsgrove in Worcester in 2010, Javid worked in the city for Deutsche Bank. Upon his departure in 2009, his annual salary has been estimated at £3 million. He undertook various cabinet positions within the Treasury before climbing the ladder to where he is today. 

Born in Rochdale and raised in Bristol by Pakistani immigrant parents, Javid has said that few teachers from his youth would have predicted he would be where he is today. He has cited how his beliefs have been shaped by the racism he experienced growing up in a culture dominated by the National Front; at school, his abilities were consistently underestimated. His leadership campaign was based largely on a platform representing himself as an everyman with an immigrant’s story. However, reactions to this haven’t always been positive. In 2018, Javid drew criticism by dismissing allegations of institutional Islamophobia in the Tory Party, citing his own appointment as Home Secretary as proof that no such prejudice exists. Despite taking office in that role off the back of Amber Rudd’s resignation over the Windrush scandal, his promises to do right by the Windrush generation seem to have been largely empty – a group of immigrants deported to Jamaica in February of this year included people who had been living in Britain since the 70s. Some have labelled Javid as an ‘Uncle Tom’-esque figure, due to his perceived pandering to the white majority of his party. Now backing the Prime Minister up an increasingly unclear path, his future in politics is anything but certain.

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