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  1. Politics
  2. The Staggers
19 February 2020updated 20 Feb 2020 9:51am

In parliament, Boris Johnson has a man problem

Conservatives MPs from the 2015 intake fear that if they aren’t already on the frontbench, they never will be.

By Stephen Bush

One of the things that Boris Johnson did well in his reshuffle was leave himself well-placed for his next one. While the big story out of the reshuffle was the enforced change at the Treasury, the planned changes were made at junior ministerial level.

Junior ministers are important for two reasons: in the here and now they are the essential agents of delivery within departments, particularly at minister of state level. But in the long-term, too, they are vital because they are the pool from which the next generation of cabinet ministers will emerge.

[See also: Boris Johnson may end up defined by his Henry VIII-style search for the perfect chancellor]

The reshuffle presented Johnson with a problem: a lot of the people he wanted to sack were women, but he had very few women available at minister of state level. He now has several more and more further down the ministerial ladder, too.  

But that success has created a new problem: it has disgruntled many male Conservative MPs, particularly those first elected in 2015. This reshuffle represented a coming-of-age moment for the 2015 intake: in addition to the forced promotion of Rishi Sunak to Chancellor, Oliver Dowden and Anne-Marie Trevelyan were both brought to the top table for the first time. They join Robert Jenrick, first elected at a 2014 by-election but in the words of one 2015-er, an “honorary” member of the class of 2015. They broadly fear that if you were elected in 2015 or before, your only hope of getting on to the front bench proper under Johnson is if you are a woman – otherwise, the newer intakes will take precedent.

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As a result, many in the class of 2015 fear that if their moment has not yet arrived, then it will never arrive under this Prime Minister.  Several have been loyal parliamentary private secretaries  for half a decade now – an unpaid bag-carrier role that one gloomily described to me as “responsibility without power” – and two PPSes are contemplating resignation so they can speak out on issues of government policy rather than toiling in the unpaid grind.

[See also: Sajid Javid’s resignation is the end of an era in British politics]

Several MPs I spoke to referenced a Twitter post by Will Wragg, the Hazel Grove MP, who is seen as being on the right of the party. He opted to publicly condemn the hiring of former Downing Street adviser Andrew Sabisky – and several in his intake plan to be more vocal on issues that they, too, disagree with the government on. Johnson’s big party management task will be convincing these MPs that they have a political future under his regime.

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