Theresa May’s position as Prime Minister is far more secure than it looks.

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In the few days since Theresa May’s difficulties during her keynote speech at last week’s Conservative Party Conference, rumours have abounded as to how much longer she can remain in the role, suggesting that her premiership is teetering on a cliff edge. In fact, it is anything but.

It says a lot, that the only attempt at a rebellion was led by the comically inept Grant Shapps (as many commentators were quick to point out, one wonders how many of the names on Shapps’ “list” were his own alter egos…), and it is highly unlikely that any credible figure will emerge to depose May any time soon.

For the few Cabinet members who could provide a credible alternative to Theresa May, it makes absolutely no sense to try and take over right now.

David Davis? He’s seen first hand how difficult Brexit will be to actually deliver, so there’s absolutely no way he’d want to carry the can for the disaster.

Amber Rudd? Perhaps the Cabinet member best suited to being PM, but difficult to imagine her wanting to take up the job whilst simultaneously trying to defend a wafer thin majority in her own constituency, and given that she was an arch-remainer, she wouldn’t be a popular choice with the party membership.

Philip Hammond? Too boring!

And Boris? Well, given that his primary concern is polishing his own reputation he’d have no interest in the impossible task of trying to deliver his referendum promises — instead preferring to come in “save the day” when the damage has already been done.

And given that no rebellion is ever going to have one of these people as a figurehead, it is unlikely to have any real success.

The main reason for this, is that despite many Conservative MPs (likely including those listed above) feel that Theresa May leading them into the next election would be inadvisable, they are terrified of the civil war they’d precipitate by deposing her. Since the referendum, most of the commentary on party divisions has focused on the Labour Party, and the stark divisions between the Corbynites and the Blairites. In fact, the Conservative Party are as (if not more) divided — up to now at least they’ve just been better at hiding it.

Any leadership election would be bloody and completely tear the party apart. And after all that, the likely outcome would be Jacob Rees-Mogg winning the leadership — a surefire way to never win a General Election. It is laughable that some seem to think Rees-Mogg — an Old-Etonian whose views on social issues would have been considered old fashioned sixty years ago — the answer to the Conservative Party’s problems with young voters. But this is the guy who Tory activists will likely coalesce around, and as such moderates in the Party will have to find their own single candidate to avoid splitting the vote.

This candidate is unlikely to come to the fore until shortly before the next General Election (still scheduled for 2022), with some suggestion from Ruth Davidson that she may be open to the leadership post-2021.

Given this current situation, despite what it may look like, Theresa May’s position is actually pretty safe for now.

Despite this, Boris remains a danger. Although he won’t lead a rebellion, he’s likely to continue to cause trouble. May can’t sack him (although given his conduct as Foreign Secretary, this would be a perfectly proportionate response) as that would risk turning him into a martyr — already popular with the party membership, he’d use the sacking to manoeuvre himself into the leadership, and it’s always better to have your rivals inside the tent. Instead, she should reshuffle him, which May implied in interviews published today that she might be prepared to do. Demote him by moving him to Business, still sufficiently Brexity but with more to do, in the hope that this will prevent him from going off-piste quite so often — wading into other policy areas and causing damage. Do this, and May keeps herself safe.

Despite the current furore, things will quieten down soon. If the Cabinet want to get rid of May because of the election result, then the time to do so was immediately after the election — to back her immediately after the election only to stab her in the back a couple of months later would reflect very badly on the perpetrators in the long-run. Plus, no one wants to become Prime Minister, only to have to take responsibility of Brexit.

Although her position looks wobbly, at the moment it is anything but.

One step forward for student fees, two steps back for housing.

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This week’s Conservative Party conference began with Theresa May pledging action on student fees and housing, pitched as a generous offer to young voters — long considered her party’s achilles heel.

First was a pledge to ‘freeze’ university tuition fees at £9,250 a year, a change from the policy announced earlier in the year to allow universities to increase fees by £250 a year. Calling this a ‘freeze’ is clearly taking positive spin to the extremes, as in reality it’s hard to see this as anything other than a u-turn. In any case, it’s generally accepted that the actual annual rate of tuition fees has little impact on deterring university applications from any background, and given that the vast majority of graduates never pay back the full amount anyway, it’s a change that will only be financially beneficial to the highest earners. This is just a cosmetic change in an attempt to compete with Jeremy Corbyn’s pledge to completely scrap tuition fees — a pledge that somewhat misses the point of the problem, which isn’t the existence of student loans (many people agree that students should pay something for further education and the subsequent increase in wages) but the steep repayments, and the seeming pointlessness of a system where loans are so high that almost no one can actually pay them off anyway.

But, what followed was the promise of a much more consequential (and welcome) change in policy — to increase the repayment threshold on student loans from £21,000 to £25,000. When the new system of student loans was originally brought in by the Coalition Government in 2012, one of the key parts of the policy was that the repayment threshold would rise (to account for inflation), but ultimately this was scrapped and the repayment threshold has remained at £21,000 for five years. Theresa May’s decision to increase it is a welcome one, and one which will actually have an appreciable impact.

On housing on the other hand, Theresa May pledged an extra £10bn for the Help to Buy scheme, which offers 20 percent equity loans to buyers of new builds worth up to £600,000.

This is a misguided policy decision. It is indeed true that many young people struggle to get on the housing ladder. And the PM is correct to pick it out as an issue she should look to address. But the problem is, in reality, one of a low supply of affordable housing (particularly in certain areas) and high demand.

As anyone with any knowledge of basic economics knows, if you pump money into increasing demand or purchasing power, without any attempt to address a fundamental problem of lack of supply, all you will succeed in doing is increasing prices. This change is therefore unlikely to have any real benefit for those struggling to afford a first property.

Additionally, the fact that Help to Buy is limited to new build properties causes further problems, making it more difficult for existing homeowners to sell their properties (and devaluing them in the process) and slowing the market down even further.

It is true that radical reform of housing is required and neither of the two main parties seem to have the answers. Jeremy Corbyn’s proposal for rent controls, announced at last week’s Labour Party Conference, also wouldn’t help. Whilst capping rents would reduce costs for some, there would be a concurrent reduction in housing supply as it would effectively kill the buy-to-let industry.

I confess that I do not know the answer to the problems of the housing market, but new and radical ideas are clearly needed.

It seems unlikely that they will arrive in this Parliament, where the Government has decided to be cautious on account of their lack of a parliamentary majority and the herculean task of implementing Brexit.

But really, Theresa May has a very real opportunity to attempt the radical reform to help the ‘just about managing’ that she promised when the first stood on the steps of Number 10 last summer. No one else in the Conservative Party has the stomach to carry the can for Brexit; so although Theresa May’s position as Prime Minister looks insecure, in fact it is anything but. This gives her an enviable opportunity to attempt radical reform. It’s is generally expected that she will lose the next election (although given that nothing seems certain in politics these days, I wouldn’t count on it), so she’s got nothing to lose. And by attempting radical reform of housing (and public services too), May could arguably save her premiership, rather than letting it become completely defined by Brexit.

Andrea Leadsom’s speech to the Conservative Party Conference should make everyone thankful that she didn’t become Prime Minister.

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Andrea Leadsom.

Yesterday the surprise runner up in the Conservative Party leadership race, Andrea Leadsom, made her first major speech as the Secretary of State of Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs. Speaking to the Conservative Party conference, she set out her vision for post-Brexit Britain — whilst everyone breathed a sigh of relief that she didn’t become Prime Minister.

Leadsom began by bringing up the example of the person selling bottles of English countryside air, seemingly as her pick as our best rural export. Although there is indeed a company selling bottled countryside air for £80 a jar, they have estimated they only sell around three hundred jars per annum. So slightly baffling that Leadsom thought it sensible to mention in her speech. One would hope that her post-Brexit strategy for our rural exports is based on something better than this.

She then went on to talk to complain about how the lack of mobile phone signal in the countryside meant that she couldn’t play Pokemon Go. This was meant as evidence for her commitment to the rolling out of superfast broadband throughout rural areas of Britain, but surely she could have thought of a better example?!

Finally, she used the old Conservative Party Conference favourite of talking about how we export food to countries who have invented the food in question.

Leadsom said: “We’re selling coffee to Brazil, sparkling wine to France, and naan bread to India.’ Of course she tactfully failed to mention the amount which is coming the other way. But, nonetheless continuing the commitment to British produce held by her predecessor at DEFRA, Liz Truss. It was of course Truss who came up with the memorable line at the 2014 Conservative Party Conference: “We import two-thirds of our cheese. That. Is. A. Disgrace.” Needless to say, Truss’s speech was replayed many times other, and the same will undoubtedly occur with Leadsom’s this time around.

All this from Leadsom, without properly addressing the integral role that migrant labour plays in the functioning of the rural economy. According to her, the shortfall can be completely made up by employing British youths. Not likely. This simply went further towards proving her evangelical attitude towards Brexit. Clearly Leadsom, just like fellow Brexiteer Liam Fox, won’t accept any free movement of people, even if it is integral to the survival of UK businesses.

This speech just proved that Leadsom wasn’t in any way qualified to become Prime Minister. How she nearly managed to, is beyond me.

Could Open Britain be the beginning of a new political party?

If you have been following the aftermath of the EU Referendum then you may have heard of an ostensibly new group Open Britain, a cross-party group made up of politicians who backed the losing remain campaign.

Open Britain was officially launched with a article in yesterday’s Sunday Times written by Conservative MP Anna Soubry, Labour MP Pat McFadden, and Liberal Democrat MP Norman Lamb, whilst the group is also backed by several other high profile MPs including Nick Clegg, Dominic Grieve, and Chuka Umunna. Effectively, it is a relaunch of the Stronger In campaign and is aiming to pressure Theresa May into a deal which puts the UK as close to the EU as possible, without actually being members.

In their article in yesterday’s Sunday Times; Soubry, McFadden, and Lamb argued strongly that the referendum result didn’t reflect a desire to shut Britain off from the rest of Europe:

We do not believe that a vote to leave the EU was a vote for a closed Britain. We believe that we are at our best when we are open — open-minded, open for business, open to trade and investment, open to talent and hard work, open to Europe and the world. That is what we are campaigning for.

It had already been suggested in early July that senior pro-Europe figures across the three main parties were openly debating the idea of a new pro-Europe and pro-business political party, a so-called ‘party of the 48 per cent’. However, this was back when there was still a chance of Andrea Leadsom becoming leader of the Conservative Party, which would have led to both major parties being in the position of having a leader with views at odds with the majority of their party’s MPs. Since the ascension of Theresa May to the office of Prime Minister, talk of a split in the Conservative Party has calmed significantly. However, there is little doubt that the Prime Minister made some enemies in the process of her Cabinet reshuffle, with most of the Conservative modernisers sacked from government. Although all is calm at the moment, who knows what could happen once the Brexit negotiations properly begin. As for the Labour Party, when Corbyn wins in September (clearly Owen Smith has absolutely no chance), the splits in the party will simply be exacerbated further, and it is difficult to see the current Labour Party ever properly reunited.

Potential rebels from these parties would have little appetite for simply joining the Liberal Democrats. Many Labour MPs have particular animosity for the Liberal Democrats following a series of bloody by-election fights over the years. In any case, the Liberal Democrat brand remains significantly tainted following the five years of the Coalition Government and despite Tim Farron’s best efforts, the party look to be making little headway in changing this. Therefore, the only option would be to form a completely new party.

Although Open Britain has been launched simply as a grassroots campaign to get a good deal for Britain in the upcoming Brexit negotiations, there seems a decent chance that it could develop into something much more. There were stories during the referendum campaign of how progressive politicians from all the main parties had enjoyed working together during the campaign, and that the prospect of further cooperation in the future had been mooted.

With Jeremy Corbyn set to remain as Labour Party leader, it looks inconceivable that the Labour Party will avoid a split. Whilst although the Conservative Party is currently relatively calm, Theresa May has the unenviable task of balancing the Brexit negotiations so that they aren’t seen to favour the Remain or Leave side of the debate. If the deal she negotiates favours the Leave side, then don’t bet against some of the keener pro-EU Conservative MPs to defect to a new pro-EU grouping in the House of Commons. The UK political system is somewhat unique in that all of the parties are relatively big tents, with the effect of this meaning that there is always potential for defections.

Ultimately, although Open Britain begins as a grassroots campaign group, it may yet morph into a new political party.

Theresa May should call an early election, but she won’t.

As soon as Theresa May became the last person standing in the Conservative leadership race and therefore the Prime Minister, the calls for her to call an early election began in earnest from opposition parties. The Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats, the Green Party, and Ukip all suggested that she had no real mandate and should therefore call an election in order to resolve this. However, May held firm and stated that with her as Prime Minister, there would not be an election until 2020. However, given the current circumstances, this would be misguided.

Currently the Conservative Party have a working majority of just seventeen in the House of Commons. However, in opinion polling they are far further ahead than this. In recent polling by YouGov, the Conservative Party held a lead of eleven percent over the Labour Party in terms of voting intention. When you factor in that Ukip are still polling at thirteen percent, and many Labour constituencies voted Leave in the EU Referendum, then the current situation looks perfectly poised for Theresa May to hugely increase her majority if an election was held in the near future.

In addition, polling has shown that the public do not believe that Jeremy Corbyn would be a viable Prime Minister. The recent Traingate fiasco has eroded public support for Corbyn even further, with polling showing that the public doubt Corbyn’s story regarding him being forced to sit on the floor by a margin of almost three-to-one. This incident has greatly damaged Corbyn’s desired image of authenticity. Proving that he likes to ‘spin’ just as much as any other politician, but he just happens to be rubbish at it. With the main opposition party being led by a leader who it can surely be agreed is unelectable, then it makes sense for Theresa May to attempt to increase her majority as soon as possible.

May should also attempt to hold an early election in order to gain a personal mandate to serve as Prime Minister. Technically, given that the UK has a Parliamentary system, there is no obligation upon May to hold a general election in order to gain a personal mandate. There have been five occasions since the Second World War where the Head of Government has changed mid-way through a Parliament. In 1957, Harold Macmillan succeeded Anthony Eden, and was then succeeded by Alec Douglas-Home in 1963. James Callaghan succeeded Harold Wilson in 1975; John Major succeeded Margaret Thatcher in 1990; and Gordon Brown succeeded Tony Blair in 2007. In none of these five cases was a general election held in order for the new Prime Minister to gain a fresh mandate. This is because in the UK we elect a Parliament and then the Government is formed from this Parliament, rather than the Prime Minister being directly elected.

However the increasing personalisation of politics, in part through the increased media coverage which comes with the 24-hour news cycle and the internet, means that although it is not constitutionally necessary to call an election, it may still be deemed necessary in the eyes of the public. In 2007, there were strong calls for Gordon Brown to call an election, with many people stating that he needed to gain a personal mandate. Interestingly, one such person was Theresa May who stated that Brown was, ‘running scared of the people’s verdict’. Ultimately, Brown chose not to call an election and served as an unelected Prime Minister until 2010. Although this was constitutionally allowed, the decision dogged him during the 2010 General Election campaign with continued assertions that he had served as Prime Minister against the will of the British people, having failed to seek their approval through the holding of an election.

Therefore, if May has any sense, she will attempt to call an early election soon in order to secure her personal mandate. This is the sensible option given the state of the opposition parties. The ongoing soap-opera in the Labour Party means that they will surely struggle to run an effective election campaign, and although Jeremy Corbyn is certain to defeat Owen Smith in September, who knows who will be leading the Labour Party come 2020. May should strike now, whilst she knows that she is guaranteed victory and an increased majority.

However, there are several difficulties inherent in the calling of an election at this time that mean May might decide against it.

The Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 means that the Prime Minister can no longer just dissolve Parliament when he or she chooses. The act set the date for the 2015 General Election as 7 May 2015, and then set an election every five years after. There are however, two ways to get around the act.

If two-thirds of the House of Commons vote for an early election to be held, then the Fixed-term Parliaments Act can be bypassed. Now, this may seem easy given that the leadership of most of the opposition parties sitting in the House of Commons have called for an early election. However, those calling for an early election in the Labour Party are those who still hold the misguided view that it is possible for Corbyn to win an election and become Prime Minister. The moderates who don’t support Corbyn will surely be loath to vote for an early general election as they will be worried about losing their seats due to the unpopularity of the party’s leadership. Similarly, although Nigel Farage called for an early general election, he has since resigned as the leader of Ukip. With Ukip poised to elect someone who nobody has ever heard of as leader, they may not be too keen on an early election either. At least until their new leader has settled in. The Green Party are in a similar situation of leadership flux, whilst the Liberal Democrat brand is surely not yet strong enough to fight another election. Seemingly, the only party who would be organised enough to fight an early general election would be the SNP. Therefore, it is difficult to see opposition parties voting in the House of Commons for an early general election to be held. It seems likely that the opposition leaders calling for an early general election after May succeeded David Cameron, were simply trying the give the new government a bit of a bloody nose.

The second way in which the Fixed-term Parliaments Act can be bypassed is through a vote of no-confidence in the government. This requires only a simple majority vote. Following a vote of no-confidence, there would then be a period of fourteen days where new governments MPs could attempt to form new governments and try to command the support of the House of Commons. May’s supporters would have to vote these proposals down in order to secure an early election. The danger of his option is firstly that the Prime Minister appears incompetent as a result of seemingly not being able to command the support of her own party following a vote of no-confidence. This would hardly be good for her electoral prospects. Secondly, in creating the situation for a vote of no-confidence, there would be the danger that Theresa May comes out of the process looking slightly Machiavellian. The public popularity of politicians and the Westminster elite remains very low, and therefore it would be hard to get them to buy into a scheme like this. Witness the unpopularity of Michael Gove after he stabbed Boris Johnson in the back in the race for the Conservative Leadership, as an example of the public’s dislike of Machiavellian politics. Therefore, a scheme like this wouldn’t do much for May’s popularity.

Therefore, there are serious difficulties inherent in the calling of an early general election, that make it somewhat unlikely that we will have an election before 2020. In addition to the constitutional difficulties, May’s original decision to say that she was ruling out an early election was likely to give the economy some sort of certainty following the repercussions which came as a result of the Brexit vote. It seems unlikely that May will want to increase this uncertainty.

Overall, it seems unlikely that an early election will be called. May seems content with the mandate earned by the Conservative Party in the 2015 General Election, whilst the constitutional requirements for calling an early election make it a very difficult task.

However, by not calling an early election, May is throwing away a golden opportunity. An opportunity to increase her Parliamentary majority hugely, and therefore guarantee the passing of her legislative agenda; whilst also potentially gaining a majority large enough to keep the Conservatives in power for many years.

But, although Theresa May should attempt to call an early general election, she probably won’t.

Theresa May looks to seize the centre ground.

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With Theresa May making her first speech as Prime Minister and choosing her first cabinet, she has finally offered a glimpse of what her policies as Prime Minister could look like. 


With her appointments to the major roles in her first cabinet it was clear that Theresa May was aiming to make good on her promise to reunite the Conservative Party following the bloody referendum campaign. With high-profile figures from both the Remain and Leave camps appointed to key positions within the cabinet, May has looked to appease the warring factions within the party. Indeed, perhaps most notably Amber Rudd and Boris Johnson, who clashed so explosively in the first referendum tv debate, were both given plum roles in cabinet. Whilst veteran Eurosceptic David Davis, who had previously been extremely critical of Theresa May over her stance on civil liberties, was made the new Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union. This move, as well as the appointment of Liam Fox as Secretary of State for International Trade, is likely to do much to appease the often troublesome Conservative backbenchers. Overall, it could be said that the ideology of the cabinet has shifted to the right somewhat, with the discarding of Tory modernisers like George Osborne, Michael Gove, and Oliver Letwin, part of the so-called ‘Notting Hill set’.

But, whereas the cabinet has shifted right, Theresa May’s rhetoric in her first speech as Prime Minister was distinctly left of centre. May stated:

If you’re from an ordinary working-class family, life is much harder than many people in Westminster realise.


The Government I lead will be driven, not by the interests of the privileged few but by yours.


When it comes to taxes we will prioritise not the wealthy, but you.

With such a strong commitment to the themes of social justice and inequality, it was clear that May was attempting to seize the political centre ground, admittedly relatively simple in the absence of an electable opposition. However, at times it was difficult to distinguish between some of the themes of her speech and the themes of Ed Miliband’s 2015 electoral pitch. This tallies with some of the commentary on May’s speeches during the short leadership campaign, with The Daily Telegraph describing her proposed curbs on big business as ‘rehashed Milibandism’. This suggests that Theresa May is looking to take advantage of the lack of a viable centre-left party, persuading any swing voters that their only viable option is to vote Conservative. This may also be a sign that another general election is imminent: either in the autumn or early in the new year.

Ultimately, it is difficult to know what way Theresa May’s policy will go during her time as Prime Minister. However, taking into account her complete overhaul of the cabinet, as well as yesterday’s speech, it seems that Theresa May’s administration will take a completely different path to David Cameron’s.

Hammond and Osborne should be the first names on May’s teamsheet.

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On Wednesday, David Cameron will take part in his last session of Prime Minister’s Questions before handing over the Prime Ministerial baton to Theresa May. Upon taking office May will almost certainly make significant changes to the existing Cabinet, with key allies such as Damian Green, Chris Grayling, and James Brokenshire potentially being promoted into big cabinet jobs.

One person who will be less sure of their position is George Osborne. Given Theresa May’s recent criticism of economic policy under the leadership of David Cameron and George Osborne, it seems likely that Osborne’s six year tenure as Chancellor of the Exchequer has come to an end. On Sunday May said:

For a Government that has overseen a lot of public service reforms in the last six years, it is striking that, by comparison, there has not been nearly as much deep economic reform. That needs to change.

This suggests that Theresa May intends to take a rather different strategy in terms of her economic policy, meaning that Osborne’s position as Chancellor is now untenable. You may think that this means the end of Osborne’s government career, and that he will be discarded from the cabinet to serve on the backbenches for the remainder of the Parliament. However, there is still a role that he could fill in Theresa May’s top team.

The overwhelming favourite to become the new Chancellor of the Exchequer is current Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond. Hammond has vast cabinet experience as Transport Secretary, Defence Secretary, and Foreign Secretary, and has also served as shadow Chief Secretary of the Treasury, making him ideally placed to take over as Chancellor. In addition, Hammond was a strong supporter of May during her ultimately short campaign for the Conservative party leadership. This leaves a vacancy at the Foreign Office which can be filled by Osborne.

Although there would likely be an outcry amongst the Conservative MPs who campaigned to leave the European Union that two supporters of the remain campaign are given the top jobs in the new government, the experience of Hammond and Osborne will be vital for the new government. The UK’s shortage of trade negotiators has been well publicised in recent weeks, with this shortage caused by the fact that it has been many years since the UK has been in a position of having to negotiate its own trade deals. Previously this was left to the relevant department of the European Union. With no potential cabinet members with experience of making trade deals, the international experience of Hammond and Osborne will be vital to the new government. Both have extensive experience of travelling abroad on government business, and both have cultivated strong relationships with their international counterparts. When it comes to negotiating international trade deals in the near future these relationships could be crucial. Although Theresa May has pledged to appoint a Secretary of State for Brexit (most likely Chris Grayling), Hammond and Osborne could be significant assets when it comes to negotiating with countries outside of Europe. Most importantly: Canada, China, India, and the United States.

Indeed, George Osborne is currently in the United States promoting closer US-UK relations, whilst he has also been promoting increased trade with the likes of China and India.

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Given that Osborne has already begun to promote Britain’s cause around the world, he would seem an obvious choice to become the new Foreign Secretary. This is a move that David Cameron himself was strongly considering had he remained as Prime Minister following a win in the EU Referendum.

In addition, Osborne reserved strong praise for Theresa May after she became the presumptive Prime Minister, indicating that he was willing to put behind him their previous disagreements upon cuts to public spending, as well as his keenness to continue in the cabinet.

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Therefore, despite the likely anger this will provoke amongst the Brexiteers (given that Osborne is hated for his prominent role in the remain campaign), Theresa May should make Osborne the new Foreign Secretary as his relationships with other world leaders will prove crucial in Britain being able to make strong trade deals in the years to come.

As for Philip Hammond, there are few individuals who are as qualified for the second highest office in the government. Hammond has frequently been described as boring. In January, The Times described him as ‘Mr Boring’, whilst in February The Guardian described him as ‘Dull Phil’. But, in this time of great upheaval, perhaps boring (and more importantly: competent) is exactly what is needed as Chancellor.

Overall, Hammond and Osborne should remain in the government when Theresa May announces her cabinet in the next few days. Although both backed the losing remain campaign (meaning that their appointment may prove divisive amongst those who backed Leave), they have significant experience in cultivating international relations and some continuity of personnel is exactly what is needed in this time of great uncertainty.