Resignations and Appointments

David Cameron stepped down as Prime Minister on 26th June 2016. However he was not the first to resign as Margret Thatcher in 1990 and Harold Wilson in 1976 had also resigned for varying reasons.

Like Cameron it was under Wilson’s leadership the European Community referendum took place in 1975.  It should be understood that both referendums were a tool for party management. Community membership has traditionally brought divisions amongst both Labour and the Conservatives as it challenges and defines British identity. Due to this a referendum frees the party from causing internal disruption as the onus is on the public to decide. Wilson in 1975 conducted himself very differently to how Cameron had in the referendum campaign. Cameron had led the Remain campaign, while Wilson in 1975 had supported the Remain campaign, but played a less active role overall. By doing this regardless of how the vote would have turned out, Wilson was in a position to continue as Prime Minister. Cameron however, by placing himself at the forefront of the campaign, meant that if he did not succeed he would have to resign. Cameron stated:

I do not think it would be right for me to try to be the captain that steers our country to its next destination

This was because he had placed himself against the will of the public who had voted to leave. Cameron like Wilson before him had wanted the referendum to put the European issue to rest and look to unite their respective parties. However, like in 1975 and currently, the debates on Europe internally amongst political parties have, and in the future continue to cause internal tensions. This again shows the political flaw of having a referendum.

The impact of a Prime Minister resigning has not surprisingly been followed by some political turmoil.  After 26th June when Cameron announced his resignation, he remained Prime Minister until the 12th July. In the interim period the Conservatives had to select a new leader, and subsequently a new cabinet.  The rules for selecting a leader differ greatly from Labour to the Conservatives. In the Conservative leadership selection candidates only need the approval by a proposer and a seconder.  Many had assumed Boris Johnson would be favourite to enter and win the leadership. However, he instantly ruled himself out of the running. Eventually, 5 candidates stepped forward this include Liam Fox, Stephen Crabb, Michael Gove, Andrea Leadsom and Theresa May.  After the first ballot in which May won 165 votes, Liam fox was eliminated while Stephen Crabb withdrew both supported threw their support behind May. The second round ballot saw the elimination of Michael Gove, and days after Andrea Leadsom withdrew. This saw Theresa May become Prime Minister.

Shortly after becoming Prime Minister May selected a cabinet. Much has been made of certain appointments such as Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary. His appointment was followed by Liam Fox being made Trade Secretary, and David Davis as Brexit Secretary. All three had fought the referendum on the Leave campaign, and will now play an integral role in the Brexit negotiations.  It should be remembered though Johnson is appointed as Foreign Secretary, he will not have significant power over Brexit, due to Davis’s position. This will also ease party tensions as the Leave supporters are well represented in cabinet. May however, to counter balance this, placed Philip Hammond as Chancellor and Amber Rudd as Home Secretary both whom campaigned for the Remain campaign. The surprise of the cabinet was George Osborne not being offered a position. May had picked this cabinet strategically as it balanced both wings of the Conservative Party. She as Prime Minister also ensured a gender balanced cabinet, with Amber Rudd, and Justine Greene as Secretary of State for Education and Minister for Women and Equality. Greene being in a same sex relationship. This is to demonstrate the she is a socially progressive politician.

Overall a Prime Ministers initial cabinet is to demonstrate the direction in which the government will be heading towards. It is also a response to the political problems of the day, and thus in many ways May’s cabinet is not a break from the past. However, due to the nature of the concerns May will face going forward, the cabinet has been selected by the dominating concern of Brexit.