Although they will be busy fighting their seats over the next seven weeks, many Conservative candidates will be unable to stop themselves wondering whether a re-elected Theresa May would give them a ministerial job.
The MPs staring at their mobile phones on 9 June would include some former ministers exiled by Ms May when she became Prime Minister nine months ago. They will now be hoping for life after apparent political death.
Ms May would have to weigh up different factors. She would want to promote “some of her own” from the younger MPs on the backbenches, as all prime ministers like to do. But would she also recall some allies of David Cameron, most of whom were ruthlessly dispatched to the backbenches last July? With a mandate to implement her own agenda, to be set out soon in the Tory manifesto, recalling one or two Cameroons might help to heal Tory wounds. It could also head off public criticism of her Government; there have been dark hints of trouble for Ms May unless she brings back some sacked ministers within a year of entering Downing Street.
The need to secure Parliament’s backing for her Brexit deal would also be in Ms May’s mind. It might well disappoint two rival camps – the 30 pro-EU Tories and 60 hardline Brexiteers – and so bringing some of them inside the ministerial tent might prove good politics.
Nicky Morgan, dropped as Education Secretary last summer, has emerged as a critic of hard Brexit as well as Ms May’s flagship domestic policy of grammar schools. Although she criticised Ms May for wearing £995 leather trousers, she later regretted her remark and admitted it was wrong to get personal. Ms May banned Ms Morgan from a Downing Street meeting with pro-Europeans but after an election victory would have to decide whether to extend an olive branch.
Other Tories also have close links to Open Britain, the successor to the Remain campaign in last year’s referendum, which now urges a soft Brexit. Dominic Grieve, the former Attorney General who now chairs Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee, is highly respected and would be a popular choice for a Cabinet-level post. But Anna Soubry, the former Business Minister and a close ally of Kenneth Clarke, might be judged too outspoken on Brexit for Ms May to risk a recall.
On the other side of the Brexit divide, Ms May will have to decide whether to bring back Michael Gove, the former Education and Justice Secretary. He would like to return and has been broadly loyal of late. But is nine months too short a penance for his act of fratricide against Boris Johnson in the Tory leadership race? Would Ms May trust him? Would she want to listen to his long interventions in Cabinet meetings and risk a re-run of their battles under Mr Cameron? Tory MPs believe she might keep him outside the tent for a bit longer.
Others on the Prime Minister’s list of possible Cabinet “retreads” include Stephen Crabb, who was seen as a rising star and ran for the Tory leadership last year. He resigned as Work and Pensions Secretary to spend more time with his family after allegations that he sent suggestive text messages to a young woman.
Mark Harper, who was Mr Cameron’s Chief Whip, left the Government along with him last summer. He is highly rated by Tory colleagues and so might be judged ready for a recall.
One decision that Ms May would not have to make is whether to recall George Osborne, the former Chancellor. It might have been too early anyway for the man told brusquely by the incoming Prime Minister to spend more time getting to know his own party. He has now spared Ms May a possible dilemma by announcing that he is standing down as MP for Tatton after being appointed editor of the London Evening Standard.Reuse content