Star factor: Marine has modernised the FN's image but remains a divisive figure even in her own party. Photo: Getty
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At the gates of power: how Marine Le Pen is unnerving the French establishment

Under her father, the Front National was the pariah party of  France. Now Marine Le Pen has brought it closer to the mainstream – and people are getting worried. 

On a rainy November morning, dockers from Calais are firing flares in protest against port job losses outside the regional council in Lille, the capital of France’s old industrial north. Inside the plush chamber, a tall, solidly built blonde woman in jeans and boots crooks a leg over her knee and flicks through a news magazine. Marine Le Pen, leader of the Front National, which has 18 council seats, has dropped in from a day at the European Parliament in nearby Brussels, where the party has 23 MEPs. Le Pen looks bored as the councillors drone on about allocating €1.1bn of EU money to help revive the bleak economy of Nord-Pas-de-Calais.

When her moment comes, she launches into a riff on the evils of the Union. EU funds just reinforce the dictatorship of Brussels and impoverish the downtrodden rural and small-town folk of the region, she says. “I have to remind people ad nauseam that this is not European money. It’s part of French taxpayers’ money that transits through Brussels with the rest going to pay for central and eastern Europe.” With that, the terror of the French political establishment picks up her papers, closes her beige wool jacket and slips out to a car for the drive back to Paris, missing the council’s splendid lunch. So it goes for Le Pen as she tills the fertile electoral soil of the north as the prelude to a run at the Élysée Palace in two years’ time.

France has been frightening itself with visions of a President Le Pen since 2002 when Jean-Marie, Marine’s father and the founder of the far-right Front, landed in the run-off for the presidency. He was roundly defeated by Jacques Chirac when voters rallied in a “republican front” to block the leader of a pariah party. Now, with his pugnacious daughter in charge of the family firm, the prospects of an anti-Front reflex are dimmer and Marine’s prospects look bright.

The country is in a foul mood. The sense of dispossession at the hands of a hostile world is feeding contempt for la France d’en haut – the governing caste. President François Hollande and his Parti Socialiste (PS) have been disowned by many of their disappointed voters, discredited by scandal and economic failure. Civil war is tearing apart the Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP), the centre-right opposition whose leadership is about to be reclaimed by Nicolas Sarkozy, the former president.

Marine Le Pen, 46, the youngest of the 86-year-old patriarch’s three daughters, is gliding above this desolate landscape, a protective, Joan of Arc-like warrior in the eyes of her followers. The blunt-spoken Le Pen fille remains divisive. More than six out of ten people do not trust her to run the country, according to an October poll. But she ranks as one of France’s most popular politicians, with a 46 per cent approval rating, after managing to shed much of the racist stigma that made her father unelectable since she became the party’s leader in 2011. After four decades as an uncivilised stain on the electoral landscape the revamped Front is on the brink of the mainstream. As Manuel Valls, the French prime minister, put it in a wake-up call to his bedraggled PS in September: “The Front National is at the gates of power.”

In the spring, the “de-demonised” Front won the biggest score of any party in the European elections and took control of a dozen electoral areas, including the towns of Béziers and Fréjus and the seventh arrondissement of Marseilles. It also won in Hénin-Beaumont, a run-down rust-belt town 20 miles south of Lille, which has become the shop window for Front administration and the base for Le Pen’s battle for the north.

Her plan goes like this. Under an Hollande reform, Nord-Pas-de-Calais, one of the 22 regions of metropolitan France, is to be merged next year with Picardy, creating a super-region of six million people under a planned shrinkage to 13 new administrations. The Front has long been popular in the north, which is at the top of its arc of strongholds extending south-east through Alsace-Lorraine to the Mediterranean coast. Le Pen won 23 per cent of the northern presidential vote in 2012 and came just behind Sarkozy. With its new creed of defending the dispossessed, the Front may manage to take Nord-Picardy in elections late next year and that would put Le Pen within credible reach of the Élysée in 2017.

This scenario is not wishful thinking. It was put to me by Le Pen’s chief local adversary. Daniel Percheron, the Socialist who has presided over the north for 14 years, thinks that Le Pen can win the super-region despite her part-time presence. “From that moment, we will be facing a presidential election of a new kind. She will have a new credibility, a legitimacy that has never existed for the far right in France,” Percheron said. A typical provincial baron, the 72-year-old senator sighed as he acknowledged Le Pen’s skill at winning over his own clientele. Old taboos against the far right have fallen, he said. “Left-wing voters are crossing the red line because they think that salvation from their plight is embodied by Madame Le Pen. They say ‘no’ to a world that seems hard, globalised, implacable. These are working-class people, pensioners, office workers who say, ‘We don’t want this capitalism and competition in a world where Europe is losing its leadership.’ ”

Le Pen, whom I have interviewed several times, going back to 2003, is amused by the left’s indignation over the way that she has broadened her attraction, softening the anti-immigration rhetoric and adding Socialist voters to the party’s hard-right faithful. When we last talked at length, in November 2013 in Le Carré, the party’s seat in Nanterre, a western suburb of Paris, she mentioned that Charles de Gaulle – whom she admires – was accused of being both a fascist and a Bolshevik.

In her husky smoker’s voice (she quit tobacco two years ago and now vapotes with electronic cigarettes) she said: “France is neither on the right nor the left – it’s just France . . . I don’t have the feeling that I tell patriots on the left different things from what I say to patriots of the right.”

Physically imposing, caustic and never letting her guard drop, Le Pen is an uncanny chip off the old granite block as she expounds her harsh, France-first creed. The armour was already in place when I first visited her 11 years ago. Back then, she was the party’s young legal counsel and was being groomed by her father for leadership.

She became hardened early because, as a Le Pen, she was always an outsider, she told me. She was the “daughter of the monster”, as she put it, growing up in the comfort of Montretout, the mansion at Saint-Cloud bequeathed to her Breton-born father by a party supporter in the late 1970s. When she was eight, a bomb had destroyed the family flat and she had felt no sympathy from anyone. No one was arrested for the crime.

There were years of Jean-Marie’s constant absences, and humiliation as a teenager when Pierrette, her mother, posed naked for Playboy. That was an act of revenge in a feud with her husband after she walked out on him, abandoning her daughters to set up home with a journalist. During Marine’s twenties, there came the paternal banishment of Marie-Caroline, the eldest of the three Le Pen daughters, after her husband defected to Bruno Mégret, a Front lieutenant who mounted an abortive takeover of the movement.

The wayward Marie-Caroline has never been accepted back into the fold but Pierrette was given a home on the Montretout estate, in the same complex as Marine, and until recently she helped take care of Marine’s three teenage children.  Jean-Marie lives nearby with Jeanne-Marie (“Jany”), his second wife.

Le Pen scoffs at talk of a dynasty but she is the heiress to the family enterprise that sprang from the murky pool of nostalgists for Vichy France and French Algeria that Jean-Marie, a former troublemaking MP and paratrooper, hammered together in 1972.

And as Marine Le Pen enters middle age, a younger generation is now emerging, in the shape of Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, 24, one of the Front’s three MPs, who is the daughter of Yann, Marine’s second sister. Perky and articulate beyond her years, Marion is already a star. She is said to be closer to the patriarch than Marine because she shares her grandfather’s uncompromising beliefs, opposing gay marriage, for example, while Marine tolerates it.

Also helping keep power in the family is Louis Aliot, one of the party’s five vice-presidents, Marine’s domestic partner – and her paid assistant in the European Parliament. A rugby-playing lawyer and Front militant from Toulouse, Aliot got together with Le Pen after she divorced, first from Franck Chauffroy, a businessman, and then from Éric Lorio, a former Front official and councillor in Nord-Pas-de-Calais.

The Front’s old guard dislike the way that she has “de-demonised” the party, down to details such as banning leather jackets and requiring blazers among the personnel. But Le Pen has imposed her authority since her election as party leader nearly four years ago and scored well in the 2012 presidential race. She has distanced herself from the father who still admires the wartime occupation and she disowns him openly when he reverts to the old sulphur, as he did this summer when he suggested that disease was a remedy for African immigration to France. “Monsieur Ebola can solve the problem in three months,” he said.

He has also taken issue with Marine’s plans for rebranding the party, with the aim of dropping the “Front” label, which conjures up brown shirts and stiff-armed salutes. “Only bankrupt companies change their names. That would be betraying the militants who built the movement,” Jean-Marie said this month.

Tension between father and daughter reached a peak in August after one of his dogs killed Arthemys, her cat, on the Montretout estate. She moved out with Aliot and her three children and they now live in a closed community in nearby La Celle Saint-Cloud.

Yet Le Pen père, who continues to stir trouble as the honorary Front president, is proud of the daughter whom he acknowledges neglecting as a child. “Marine is more shy, less warm, less sentimental than me, perhaps. She is my daughter all the same,” he told Serge Moati, a documentary-maker. “People have tried to break the tie between Marine and me but they don’t manage to.” His daughter has an independent mind but she is refusing to “follow the rule of killing the father”, he added.

A Parisian bourgeoise, child of the 1980s, Le Pen defends her father, though she has jettisoned his retro obsessions with the Second World War, the colonies and race that have landed him multiple court convictions for hate speech. On 20 November, the Paris Appeal Court fined him €5,000 for a pun it deemed a racist insult against the Roma. He had said that, “like birds, they steal naturally”. The French for steal (voler) is also the verb for “to fly”.

Yet, for all Marine Le Pen’s feminine stamp on dad’s nasty party, hostility to immigration remains her stock-in-trade. She has merely shifted the ground, focusing on radical Islam rather than race, lumping together the Muslim immigrant presence and the assault on the nation that is supposedly waged from Brussels by free trade. She says that France is finally waking up to the ruin wreaked by immigration, the euro and the removal of internal EU frontiers. The country needs to reclaim its monetary and territorial sovereignty, she told me.

“Before the total opening of frontiers with the EU, France was a trading nation and rather more so than today . . . From the moment that they put in place the convergence criteria for the euro, our exports collapsed and our imports collapsed. With control of our frontiers, we will just be like 95 per cent of the countries of the world.”

This goes down well in milieux where people would never have acknowledged sympathy for the old man. “Marine talks sense,” is a line you hear in suburban cafés and workplaces whenever the conversation gets around to la crise, the sense of decline that has hung over French life for decades. Saying “I’m with Marine” is easier than voicing admiration for the Front. Blurring lines, the daughter talks less of the Front than her Rassemblement Bleu Marine – “the navy blue rally”, a flag under which her candidates run in local election campaigns.

Middle-class sympathisers liken the FN movement to the US Republican Tea Party, Nigel Farage’s UK Independence Party and the readership of the Daily Mail, yet she is not there yet. The old stigma dies hard. Farage has refused to ally his Ukip MEPs – the other big anti-EU bloc in Strasbourg – with Le Pen’s because of what he calls the Front’s racist DNA. The differences do not stop at the past. Le Pen’s lurch to anti-capitalist populism is the opposite of Farage’s freebooting market ideas. Les Anglo-Saxons are the adversary in the Le Pen universe, while Putin’s Russia is her favoured model. If only France had a patriotic leader who stood up for the nation like Vladimir, she says.

Farage’s rejection upsets Le Pen, but she makes no excuses for refusing to conform to the more civilised manner that, to some, can make him seem unthreatening. “I’ve had long talks with Nigel Farage,” she told me when she was still courting him. “But his Ukip is a young movement which is suffering the same strong demonisation that is applied to everyone that opposes the EU. He is not tough enough yet to resist the demonisation.”

Le Pen’s task is to turn her insurgency into a machine that could plausibly govern. She says she is ready to become prime minister in “cohabitation” with Hollande if he dissolves parliament and the Front wins a majority. She is alone among the party leaders in demanding dissolution, which she says is needed because the most unpopular administration in modern French history has lost public trust. She voices admiration for David Cameron’s promise of an in-out referendum on EU membership, and says that within six months a Prime Minister Le Pen would hold a vote to tell Brussels (as she put it in an interview with Europe 1 radio in October): “Either you reform and you give us back our sovereignty and independence over the currency, or I will propose that France leaves the Union.”

There is little chance of any such thing, given that Hollande has no need to call elections that would be suicidal, and that the Front would have little hope of winning because of the eliminating power of the two-round electoral system and the party’s thin structure. It would need to jump from three MPs to the 200 or so required to secure a working majority. But Le Pen is out to remedy the weakness. Where Jean-Marie never tried to move beyond a protest movement, she and her entourage in Nanterre are weaving networks of activists, anointing candidates, courting business leaders and senior civil servants and trying to win respectability with the thinking classes.

The work at ground level is being waged by Front stars such as Steeve Briois, a 42-year-old who triumphed in March in Hénin-Beaumont, Le Pen’s northern perch, winning the mayoral seat in the first electoral round. Few local people have a bad thing to say about Briois, who is greeted with cheers when he wanders the streets of red-brick terraces and drops in to the market square to chat like any French mayor.

“He’s a nice guy. La Fête de la Musique was great this year, thanks to Steeve,” said Dorothée, a shopkeeper, referring to the popular Midsummer Night party associated with the Socialists since the government invented it in the 1980s.

To clean up the town’s finances, which had been run into the ground by a sleaze-ridden PS council, Briois brought in as his deputy Jean-Richard Sulzer, 67, a Paris University economist and veteran Front policymaker. “It’s excellent being able to put our ideas into practice,” Sulzer told me. “It shows people we can run a clean shop.”

A long-time oddity in the academic world because of his Front role, Sulzer insisted that many colleagues are rallying to the cause. “A substantial number of teachers are going to vote for the Front. They won’t admit it. It’s a perfectly hidden vote but our network of intellectuals is spreading rapidly,” he said.

The party’s chief asset on the intellectual side is Florian Philippot, a 33-year-old who hails from the civil service elite and who is, in effect, Le Pen’s deputy. A disciple of de Gaulle – a figure abhorred by Jean-Marie and the old guard – Philippot is shaping Le Pen’s new doctrines of shoring up the welfare state and defending the poor.

The crossover from “brown to red” is vital for her fortunes. She is doing an excellent job capturing les petits blancs – the dispossessed white inhabitants of the suburbs and small towns – says Pascal Bruckner, a star essayist from the post-1968 era. “The genius of the Front is the way it has taken over the values abandoned by a left that converted to multiculturalism,” he said on television recently. The Front is offering old-fashioned certainties, a lurch back to the imagined golden age of the mid-20th century. This was the era of the “Trente Glorieuses”, the 30 years of growth that are the stuff of fashionable nostalgia, reflected in retro pop songs, comedies set in the 1960s and above all by Le Suicide français, a new, bestselling rant against the evils of modern France by Éric Zemmour, a right-wing essayist.

Le Pen is subliminally promising a return to this imagined golden age that ran up to the mid-1970s. She is forecasting a surge to 3-4 per cent economic growth simply from stopping immigration, slapping tariffs on imports and leaving the euro. Her contempt for Sarkozy, Hollande and what she calls the discredited political classes goes down well. “They have failed. They are bankrupt,” she told a radio phone-in in mid-November. “They didn’t react for decades when our sovereignty passed into the hands of the European Union and we became a vast playground for the multinationals.”

It is perhaps easy to be carried away by the spectre of President Marine. As implausible as it seemed until lately, the big parties are taking the prospect seriously. L’Express news magazine recently published a cover report explaining “Why the worst is possible”. It quoted Bernard Cazeneuve, the interior minister, saying that her victory could no longer be excluded. It is expected that Le Pen will reach the run-off for the presidency in 2017. A recent Ifop poll showed her topping the vote or coming second to the UMP in a notional first-round presidential vote. In all hypotheses, she would relegate Hollande or any other Socialist to third place. Her most redoubtable adversary at the moment would be Alain Juppé, the UMP elder statesman, a former prime minister who is nearly 70. He is eclipsing Sarkozy’s attempted comeback, according to Ifop.

Yet it is unlikely that Le Pen will be able to pull it off. Some calm analysis comes from Jean-Yves Camus, an academic authority on the Front. “If her opponent in the second round is Sarkozy, he wins the match easily, and if it is Juppé or anyone else from the UMP, they will still beat Marine Le Pen,” Camus told me. We are back to the matter of the so-called anti-Le Pen Republican Front. “The question is, if a left-wing candidate reaches the second round, will UMP voters back the Socialist to block Le Pen?”

He thinks that, for all the sympathy on the right for Le Pen, they will flinch from putting her in the palace. “They may back the Front locally, but in a presidential election the question is whether it has the capacity to run the country. The Front does not have the elite necessary to take the controls of the state. It’s as simple as that.”

Le Pen has done a solid job harnessing the nation’s discontent, Camus agrees. “But it’s not very difficult, given the toxic atmosphere that reigns in French politics and the colossal errors being made by her opponents. Marine Le Pen has only to stay in her armchair and watch the news.” 

Charles Bremner is Europe editor of the Times

This article first appeared in the 27 November 2014 issue of the New Statesman, The rise of the insurgents

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Cabinet audit: what do Theresa May’s new hires mean for government?

The New Statesman team looks at the politics and policy behind the new Prime Minister’s cabinet appointments.

Liam Fox, International Trade Secretary

Only Nixon, it is said, could have gone to China. Only a politician with the impeccable Commie-bashing credentials of the 37th President had the political capital necessary to strike a deal with the People’s Republic of China.

Theresa May’s great hope is that only Liam Fox, the newly-installed Secretary of State for International Trade, has the Euro-bashing credentials to break the news to the Brexiteers that a deal between a post-Leave United Kingdom and China might be somewhat harder to negotiate than Vote Leave suggested.

The biggest item on the agenda: striking a deal that allows Britain to stay in the single market. Elsewhere, Fox should use his political capital with the Conservative right to wait longer to sign deals than a Remainer would have to, to avoid the United Kingdom being caught in a series of bad deals.

Stephen Bush

Andrea Leadsom, Environment Secretary

A little over a week into Andrea Leadsom’s new role as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), senior industry figures had already begun questioning her credentials. A growing list of campaigners have called for her resignation, and even the Cabinet Office implied that her department's responsibilities will be downgraded.

So far, so bad.

The appointment would appear to be something of a consolation prize, coming just days after Leadsom pulled out of the Conservative leadership race and allowed Theresa May to enter No 10 unopposed.

Yet while Leadsom may have been able to twist the truth on her CV in the City, no amount of tampering will improve the agriculture-related side to her record: one barely exists. In fact, recent statements made on the subject have only added to her reputation for vacuous opinion: “It would make so much more sense if those with the big fields do the sheep, and those with the hill farms do the butterflies,” she told an audience assembled for a referendum debate. No matter the livelihoods of thousands of the UK’s hilltop sheep farmers, then? No need for butterflies outside of national parks?

Normally such a lack of experience is unsurprising. The department has gained a reputation as something of a ministerial backwater; a useful place to send problematic colleagues for some sobering time-out.

But these are not normal times.

As Brexit negotiations unfold, Defra will be central to establishing new, domestic policies for UK food and farming; sectors worth around £108bn to the economy and responsible for employing one in eight of the population.

In this context, Leadsom’s appointment seems, at best, a misguided attempt to make the architects of Brexit either live up to their promises or be seen to fail in the attempt.

At worst, May might actually think she is a good fit for the job. Leadsom’s one, water-tight credential – her commitment toopposing restraints on industry – certainly has its upsides for a Prime Minister in need of an alternative to the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP); a policy responsible for around 40 per cent the entire EU budget.

Why not leave such a daunting task in the hands of someone with an instinct for “abolishing” subsidies – thus freeing up money to spend elsewhere?

As with most things to do with the EU, CAP has some major cons and some equally compelling pros. Take the fact that 80 per cent of CAP aid is paid out to the richest 25 per cent of farmers (most of whom are either landed gentry or vast, industrialised, mega-farmers). But then offset this against the provision of vital lifelines for some of the UK’s most conscientious, local and insecure of food producers.

The NFU told the New Statesman that there are many issues in need of urgent attention; from an improved Basic Payment Scheme, to guarantees for agri-environment funding, and a commitment to the 25-year TB eradication strategy. But that they also hope, above all, “that Mrs Leadsom will champion British food and farming. Our industry has a great story to tell”.

The construction of a new domestic agricultural policy is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Britain to truly decide where its priorities for food and environment lie, as well as to which kind of farmers (as well as which countries) it wants to delegate their delivery.

In the context of so much uncertainty and such great opportunity, Leadsom has a tough job ahead of her. And no amount of “speaking as a mother” will change that.

India Bourke

Chris Grayling, Transport Secretary

Having run Theresa May’s leadership campaign, Chris Grayling was always going to be in line for a pretty beefy promotion. And so it transpired, with the staunch Brexiteer being plucked from his post as Leader of the House of Commons to head the Department for Transport.

He has been a useful ally of May’s, reassuring fellow eurosceptics and Brexit voters that the once Remain-backing Prime Minister really means that “Brexit means Brexit”.

But his appointment will bring less comfort to DfT mandarins and those in the transport industry. Detractors who have previously worked for him in government usually either decry him as a hardline right winger, or suggest he is just simply not very bright. A notorious figure since his stint as Justice Secretary in 2012-15, Grayling is known for his uncompromising and compassionless (and often senseless) policy decisions – banning books being sent to prisoners, legal aid cuts, and controversial new court charges. The legal world was also riled by his lack of knowledge about the profession, as the first non-lawyer to serve as Lord Chancellor for nearly half a century.

However, Grayling is familiar with the transport brief, having shadowed the role in 2005-7, and he will have the same challenges as many past transport secretaries (and their shadows): the future of HS2, and the question of airport expansion. Politically sticky infrastructure projects that have been consistently kicked into the long grass. But perhaps May’s enthusiasm for a proper industrial policy – and shelving of austerity targets – will mean Grayling has to get more done on such matters than his prevaricating predecessors.

Anoosh Chakelian

Karen Bradley, Culture Secretary

The most politically charged of the culture minister's responsibilities is overseeing the BBC, and to anyone who works for - or simply loves - the national broadcaster, Karen Bradley has one big point in her favour. She is not John Whittingdale. Her predecessor as culture secretary was notorious for his belief that the BBC was a wasteful, over-mighty organisation which needed to be curbed. And he would have had ample opportunity to do this: the BBC's Charter is due for renewal next year, and the licence fee is only fixed until 2017. 

In her previous job at the Home Office, Karen Bradley gained a reputation as a calm, low-key minister. It now seems likely that the charter renewal will be accomplished with fewer frothing editorials about "BBC bias" and more attention to the challenges facing the organisation as viewing patterns fragment and increasing numbers of viewers move online.

Of the rest of the job, the tourism part just got easier: with the pound so weak, it will be easier to attract visitors to Britain from abroad. And as for press regulation, there is no word strong enough to describe how long the grass is into which it has been kicked.

Helen Lewis

Sajid Javid, Communities Secretary

Sajid Javid is a pinup for Tory aspiration – son of a British-Pakistani bus driver, he worked his way from his local comprehensive in Rochdale to the towers of New York.

At 20, he was attending the Conservative Party Conference and by 25 he was the youngest vice-president of Chase Manhattan Bank. This was the start of an international career that took him to London and Singapore.

After winning the seat of Bromsgrove in 2010, Javid began an equally rapid political rise. By the end of 2011, he was the parliamentary private secretary to the then-Chancellor, George Osborne.

The following years saw him climb the Treasury’s stairs. And a year’s break from economic policy found him haunting the foyers of London’s West End as Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. But by 2015, he was back in Osborne’s sphere of influence as Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills.

He is now the most high-profile survivor of Theresa May’s purge of the Osbornites (she and the former Chancellor often clashed in cabinet), but downgraded to the slightly less weighty position of Communities and Local Government Secretary.

Could Sajid Javid be Britain's first Asian Prime Minister? asked the Daily Mail in 2014. As it is, the new PM has sent his path to power on something of a detour. He's held onto a seat at the cabinet table, but with Osborne on the backbenches, he’s on his own.

Julia Rampen

Boris Johnson, Foreign Secretary

The world shared a stunned silence when news broke that Boris Johnson would be the new Foreign Secretary. Johnson, who once referred to black people as “piccaninnies” and more recently accused the half-Kenyan President of the United States of only commenting on the EU referendum because of bitterness about colonialism, will now be Britain’s representative on the world stage.

His colourful career immediately came back to haunt him when US journalists accused him of “outright lies” and reminded him of the time he likened Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to a “sadistic nurse”. Johnson’s previous appearances on the international stage include a speech in Beijing where he maintained that ping pong was actually the Victorian game of “whiff whaff”.

But Johnson has always been more than a blond buffoon, and this appointment is a shrewd one by May. His popularity in the country at large, apparently helped by getting stuck on a zip line and havingnumerous affairs, made him an obvious threat to David Cameron’s premiership. His decision to defect to the Leave campaign was widely credited with bringing it success. He canned his leadership campaign after Michael Gove launched his own bid, but the question of whether his chutzpah would beat May’s experience and gravity is still unknown.

In giving BoJo the Foreign Office, then, May hands him the photo opportunities he craves. Meanwhile, the man with real power in international affairs will be David Davis, who as Brexit minister has the far more daunting task of renegotiating Britain’s trade deals.

Julia Rampen

Philip Hammond, Chancellor

Even officials with leftwing politics hoped that Theresa May would keep George Osborne in place at the Treasury, for two reasons: firstly because he is a considerate boss, and secondly because his exit from frontline politics likely means the end of a 19-year period of dominance by the Treasury, in which, whether under Gordon Brown, Osborne or even under Alistair Darling, whoever has been in office, the Treasury has been in power.

But Philip Hammond was very much the second choice, way ahead of any of the possible figures. Hammond was the biggest beast to back May’s candidacy and was rewarded for the Treasury brief that coalition denied him (he had shadowed the post of Chief Secretary to the Treasury in opposition but the mechanics of the coalition meant the post had to be given to a Liberal Democrat). Before May’s accession to the premiership, he had already lined up with her on negotiations with the European Union and Osborne’s deficit targets (now shelved).

Hammond comes in with the economy looking pre-recessional and with Britain’s future participation in the single market in some doubt. (Hammond has publicly said Britain ought to remain in the single market above all else – May is more concerned about immigration, while the Brexit-backing ministers are divided.)

What ought he to do? The big task is to get the construction industry back on its feet. Happily, although the decline in Britain’s credit rating has made borrowing more expensive, low interest rates at home and abroad make the case for fiscal stimulus stronger than ever, and mean the government can borrow on the cheap. Launching programmes of housebuilding, transport infrastructure and clean energy would be good ways to try to avert or at least ride out any economic shocks. (From an economic perspective albeit not an environmental one, it makes sense to approve new runways at Heathrow and Gatwick, two “shovel-ready” infrastructure projects that have private money behind them.)

But the big victory that Hammond could achieve at the Treasury would be to defeat the Brexiteer ultras and keep Britain in the single market.

Stephen Bush

Amber Rudd, Home Secretary

The good news first: Amber Rudd, MP for Hastings and Rye since 2010, joins May in the Great Offices of State. This is the first time two of these four positions have been held by women at the same time. Rudd is only the fifth woman ever to hold one.

The ex-Energy Secretary will take the reins directly from May, so it’s fair to assume she’ll carry on much of the work begun by the longest-serving Home Secretary since 1892. Rudd is unlikely to rock the boat here – she has not rebelled once in this parliamentary term. Therese Coffey MP told the Telegraph that May sees Rudd as “a safe pair of hands”.

The Investigatory Powers bill, or so-called Snoopers’ Charter, was a high priority for May, and is currently making its way through the Lords. Despite objections raised in the House around the protection of communications with journalists’ sources and lawyers’ clients, it’s likely it’ll pass without much fuss. Depending on the amendments that make it through, it may allow security services to hack into our computers and phones (including cameras and microphones), and require back doors to be built in encrypted messaging systems.

Rudd has repeatedly voted for a stricter asylum system by restricting the support available to failed asylum seekers, and denying permission for them to work if they’re in the UK for over six months. She was absent for a vote on sparing migrants from deportation on human rights grounds. May stubbornly sought to cut net migration in her time as Home Secretary, and created a minimum income threshold (£35,000) for non-EU citizens who have lived in the UK for less than ten years and who are hoping to stay.

Since taking the leadership May has confirmed that “we should have that goal of bringing immigration down to sustainable levels”. This is now down to Rudd, who in a fiery Brexit TV debate with Boris Johnson argued that immigration is “a complex problem…you need to look at the numbers. But the only number Boris is interested in is Number 10!”

Female Genital Mutilation within the UK also falls within the Home Office remit, and Rudd may try to make her own mark here. She is vice-chair of the Parliamentary Committee on Female Genital Mutilation and has called for stricter laws around the practice.

Barbara Speed

Justine Greening, Education Secretary

An early supporter of the new Prime Minister, and longstanding cabinet member, Justine Greening was always heading for promotion in a Theresa May cabinet. Her former territory, the Department for International Development, loyally picked up a lot of slack from the Home Office on migration issues under Greening's leadership, and she has regularly worked closely with May.

Personal allegiances aside, Greening is a sensible choice for the Department for Education. She is the first Education Secretary to have been educated at a comprehensive school, and as the first openly gay woman to serve in cabinet, she is a good choice for the Women and Equalities brief, which she also carries.

Theresa May’s first speech as Prime Minister highlighted two huge problems that many would attribute to the education system: how white working-class boys are “less likely than anybody else in Britain to go to university”; and how “If you’re at a state school, you’re less likely to reach the top professions than if you’re educated privately”.

Going some way to solving these two huge problems will be Greening’s aim, though really the issues go far deeper than her new department. Still, there is scope for improvement, beginning with an increased focus upon early years education: by the age of five, there is a 19-month gap in school readiness between the most and least disadvantaged children.

The UK is almost unique in having larger class sizes for primary than secondary school, which is barmy; addressing that should be part of a whole project of centring UK education policy on the first years in life, which are the most important, and ceasing the endless tinkering with secondary education.

Alas, many in the Conservative party do not want the tinkering to stop. There is a renewed call for the ban on opening new grammars to be overturned. There are 163 remaining today, concentrated in a few selective counties. The government’s approval of a new grammar school annexe in Sevenoaks last October, ten miles away from the original site, hints at many more to come, with ten council areas keen to open more satellite schools – effectively bringing grammar schools back through the back door.

The nostalgic argument to bring back grammar schools seems perverse considering that, in areas that maintain fully selective education like Kent, poorer pupils do worse than the national average and the attainment gap between the most advantaged and disadvantaged students is above the national average. It also ignores that the countries that perform best in education are those that separate latest, and demand the highest standards of all pupils until 16.

Greening will have more to grapple with than her predecessor Nicky Morgan, because the education brief has now been expanded to include higher education. Integrating the two could have some negative effects: schools and universities will now effectively be competing with each other for funding within the department. Whereas universities' former place in the Department for Business recognised how they are a British export and a driver of business.

But this integration gives Greening the opportunity to improve communication between elite universities and state schools, thereby improving access to the top universities. The coming vote on increasing tuition fees to £9,250 might give her an opportunity to demand that some universities ramp up their access work, as they did when fees when trebled in 2010. Yet she will soon realise that, while some universities could undoubtedly do more, the crux of the issue is way earlier, in the earliest years of life. This should be her main focus.

Tim Wigmore

Damian Green, Work and Pensions Secretary

"There will always be a little bit of the Home Office inside me,” Theresa May told her civil servants when she left 2 Marsham Street for the last time.

There is more than a little bit of the Home Office in her government, too, with trusted old hands from her old department now stretched out across the government. Damian Green, a long-term ally of May’s – and, like her, a veteran of the Conservatives’ internal battles to modernise from long before David Cameron arrived on the scene – and a trusted lieutenant in the Home Office, returns to government having been sacked by Cameron in 2014.

The appointment gives us a clue as to how May views the troubled Universal Credit programme and the Department for Work and Pensions overall. The DWP came to be regarded as something of a basket case on Whitehall and was at continual loggerheads – something that Stephen Crabb was brought in to fix after Iain Duncan Smith quit the government. Crabb’s resignation from the government following stories that he had sent salacious texts to a young woman stymied that project.

Step forward Green. It feels likely that his appointment is a signal that Downing Street is well aware of the problems with IDS’ failed reforms and the need for a competent hand to bring the department back into equilibrium. There’s an irony that the progressive wishlist for the DWP – unwind much of the Duncan Smith agenda, and get the department making headlines for positive reasons – is shared both by the Prime Minister and by the new boss at Caxton Street.

Stephen Bush

Priti Patel, International Development Secretary

Perhaps one of the least palatable new hires for Whitehall bods is Priti Patel, semi-promoted from cabinet-attending Employment Minister to International Development Secretary. The right winger is known for being on the neo-Thatcherite vanguard of the party characterised by the provocative 2012 treatise Britannia Unchained, which she co-authored – championing free market economics and a smaller state. So having her at the helm of any department would legitimately give civil servants the jitters.

But Dfid, though one of the less political departments, is a particularly controversial charge for Patel. In 2013, she suggested to the Daily Telegraph that it should be scrapped in favour of a more trade-focused department, calling for, “the consideration to replace Dfid with a Department for International Trade and Development in order to enable the UK to focus on enhancing trade with the developing world and seek out new investment opportunities in the global race. It is possible to bring more prosperity to the developing world and enable greater wealth transfers to be made from the UK by fostering greater trade and private sector investment opportunities.”

The International Development Act makes it illegal to tie aid to trade, so Patel will find it tough to pursue her ideological aims. But there are things she can do to change the tone and focus of the Department; her initial statement upon taking the job emphasises “working across government, with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the new Department for International Trade, the Home Office and others”. 

She could even advocate for repealing David Cameron’s commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of GDP on development, which was enshrined in law last year. Although it is unlikely she would try this, removing the ring fence on the Dfid budget might actually become a tempting prospect for the rest of government, which is set to become even more cash-strapped as a result of Brexit.

We can only hope that Dfid’s ability to keep its ministers out of the political fray, and regularly travelling overseas, will curb this threat.

Anoosh Chakelian

David Davis, Brexit Secretary

David Davis is proof that there are second acts in political lives. Eleven years after he was defeated by David Cameron in the Conservative leadership contest, and 19 years after he last served in government, Davis has been tasked by Theresa May with negotiating Brexit.

It was a role that the Leave supporter had pitched for throughout the EU referendum campaign, though he was still surprised by his elevation. When the call from Downing Street came, Davis was drinking with a former researcher in a Commons bar and initially ignored his phone. As Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, he will now be one of the new administration’s defining figures.

The Haltemprice and Howden MP, 67, served as Europe minister from 1994-97, a role in which he acquired the sobriquet  “Monsieur Non”. He has already displayed similar implacability in his new post. To the charge that opening trade talks with other countries would be illegal under EU law, Davis replied: “Well that’s what they say, they can’t tell us who to talk to . . . What are they are going to do?” He has also warned that European migrants who arrive before Brexit is complete could be denied the right to remain.

Davis expects Article 50, which sets a two-year limit for withdrawal, to be triggered “before or by the start” of 2017. Rater than retaining single market membership (as Norway does), he favours Canadian-style tariff-free access. This would grant the UK exemption from free movement and EU budget contributions but would deny financial services the right to unhindered trade (known as “passporting”).

The former SAS reservist is best remembered by many for resigning as shadow home secretary in 2008 in order to fight a by-election over the issue of 42-day detention. After remaining outside Cameron’s team, he became a redoubtable defender of civil liberties from the backbenches. The council estate boy was also one of just two Tory MPs to originally vote against tax credit cuts (a record of rebellion that also includes tuition fees, capital gains tax, child benefit cuts, House of Lords reform, boundary changes and Syria).

When I interviewed him in May, Davis warned that any attempt to withdraw the UK from the European Convention on Human Rights would be defeated by himself and “a dozen” other Conservatives (a group known as the “Runnymede Tories” after the meadow where Magna Carta was sealed). It was a stance that May abandoned shortly after launching her leadership campaign.

Davis boasts the rare feat of joining the government while simultaneously suing it. In partnership with Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson, he launched a European court action against the Home Office, May’s former department, over the bulk retention of communications data. “I would be surprised if the ECJ doesn’t find in my favour and that will have big implications for the IP [Investigatory Powers] bill,” he told me.

As one of the “three Brexiters” at the head of May’s government (the others being Boris Johnson and Liam Fox), Davis will compete not only for supremacy over policy. The trio have been ordered to share Chevening, the foreign secretary’s traditional country residence, in Kent.

George Eaton

Greg Clark, Business Secretary

A PhD in economics and a career in management consulting would suggest that the new Secretary of State for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy has a flare for maths. Yet when it comes to policy, Greg Clark's record doesn't always add up. 

A renowned Tory moderniser, Clark's appointment to head the new department (born out of watering down BIS, and dismantling DECC) has been greeted with optimism from the business community and green sector alike. He “gets climate change”, said Ruth Davis from the E3G energy policy think tank.

As a former policy director, he helped found and champion David Cameron’s Big Society initiative. He has since been through a succession of frontbench roles, consistently voted in favour of gay marriage, helped devolve power to cities, and made a splash by arguing that Polly Toynbee, not Winston Churchill, should set the Conservative agenda.

Yet can this Middlesbrough-born son of a milkman succeed in growing a green economy where his Big Society agenda appears to have so markedly failed?

The greatest challenge his new, enlarged, and hopefully more empowered, department faces is to grow UK industry at the same time as urgently reducing our emissions. Luckily this is something that Clark also perceives to be one of the country's greatest opportunities. He has criticised those who challenge action on climate change, shown a readiness to plan for the worst when it comes to interpreting climate science, and provided an ambitious vision for Britain’s green economy: “Britain could be the Saudi Arabia of marine energy”, he said in 2009.

Yet while his words have promoted wave-power, his actions have tended to change like the tide. His reputation for devolving power to local governments was seriously dented last year, when it was announced that Clark – then the Communities & Local Government Secretary – not the local council, would get the final say over permission to frack in Lancashire. Other concerning examples of this “do as I say, not as I do” tendency include voting to lower taxes on fuel and for cuts to renewable subsidies. 

He must therefore work fast to ensure that his reputation for blue sky thinking is more than a lot of hot air. Barry Gardiner, Labour's shadow energy secretary, has suggested that accelerating energy efficiency, developing Carbon Capture Storage and bringing forward the government’s promised Carbon Plan, would all be good places to start.

The rise of Clark and his new department is likely to be linked to the demise of the Department for Energy and Climate Change – and the loss of climate change from a cabinet nameplate. Yet if he can steer new policy in the right direction, towards making environmental costs integral to industry rather than an afterthought, he might yet make this chequered inheritance his greatest strength.

India Bourke

James Brokenshire, Northern Ireland Secretary

Remember Northern Ireland? You could be forgiven for forgetting it – certainly, for most of the EU referendum campaign, the fate of the region, which receives £120m a year in funds from the European Union, and thanks to the free movement of labour and the Common Travel Agreement no longer has a hard border between the North and the South.

Now that is in jeopardy, and thanks to the landslide endorsement of Remain by the region’s voters, tensions between Northern Ireland and the mainland are understandably high.

Neglected during the campaign, Northern Ireland has been forgotten during the discussion of what Brexit means. Most of the attention over what Britain’s Leave vote means for its constituent kingdoms has focused on whether Scotland stays in the Union or not – little attention has been given to the £600m hit to the Welsh economy or to what Brexit could do to Northern Ireland’s peace process.

Step forward James Brokenshire. Just as during the Blair era, Gordon Brown brought his protégés up through the Treasury before diffusing them throughout the government machinery, Theresa May has handed jobs to Home Office juniors who she knows and respects.

Brokenshire’s brief will be to shield Northern Ireland from the consequences of the loss of EU funds and ensure that whatever post-Brexit deal is struck, a hard border between North and South remains off the agenda.

Stephen Bush