I think we can all recognise it’s been a turbulent time in politics over the last few months, maybe even years. Who would want to be prime minister at a time like this? Looking at Rishi Sunak’s in-tray, he is facing a fundamentally fractured Conservative Party lacking direction, dwindling support for the party in the polls and he also has a financial crisis to deal with. In his first few days on the job, the prime minister seemed to be placing competence at the top of his priority list.
The moves he has made so far have been sensible ones - the Cabinet reshuffle has placed experience over preference, with every returning Cabinet member having previously held a secretary of state or a senior ministerial position.
The most important position in all this has been the retention of Jeremy Hunt as Chancellor. This was a wise choice to both steady the financial markets and keep some continuity in a very unstable time. The fiscal statement due on 31 October has been shifted back to 17 November to let the prime minister examine the measures included.
The kind of prime minister Sunak will be is still very much up for debate, but he will likely be keeping a keen eye on the economics, given his background in banking and his tenure as chancellor.
The prime minister has also echoed back to the Conservative manifesto of 2019 recently, with the continuation of the ban on fracking, onshore wind and the prioritisation of brownfield sites for planning permission. This is smart work, as this manifesto has a mandate from the British electorate, where many might think that Rishi Sunak does not.
In terms of other appointments, Suffolk MP Dr Thérèse Coffey has been appointed as the new Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
Dr Coffey was Liz Truss’ second in command as deputy prime minister, so while a demotion is not bad news, with previous experience in the department as environment minister from 2016 – 2019, Dr Coffey brings knowledge to a department that has seen flux over the last couple of months. The CLA has met with Thérèse on many occasions to discuss the interests and priorities of our members, including constructive conversations at the Suffolk Show earlier this year.
Dr Coffey has been unashamedly a supporter of farmers in the past, including the need for better water supplies for her constituency in Suffolk.
She was also in the post under Michael Gove while the Environment Land Management (ELM) schemes were being first developed. She can be a controversial figure but will be a firm defender for Defra at a time when spending cuts are likely to be coming to all government departments. Mark Spencer has also been reappointed to the post of farming minister, and we look forward to continuing our engagement with him.
Other notable faces in the cabinet include Michael Gove returning to his post as Levelling-Up Secretary and Grant Shapps to business.
The pace of change in politics has been seismic in recent times but the CLA will continue work with the new government and speak up for the interests of those living and working in rural areas.