Sunak moves to unite party as he attempts to bring Tories back from the brink

It was a reshuffle that underlined the scale of the division within the Conservative Party following a tumultuous, almost fatal descent into acrimony and disagreement.

On Monday, Sunak told his party and its MPs it must unite or die. This was his side of that bargain. Not only did senior backers of his disastrous predecessor, Liz Truss, stay in the job, but those who supported Boris Johnson long after Sunak’s own resignation were also represented.

There was space for key backers and lieutenants of Sunak, with Mel Stride at the DWP, Dominic Raab returning to justice and deputy prime minister, as well as Oliver Dowden as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.

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The easy decisions had been made for him, with Jeremy Hunt retained as Chancellor ostensibly for stability but in reality to retain a key moderate voice at the heart of government. Ben Wallace, the popular defence secretary, also retained his position. Continuity on Ukraine and appeasing the Tory membership likely high on the list of key considerations. Therese Coffey’s shift to environment is also priced in to aid the difficult transition from Truss’ premiership.

Former leadership hopefuls, Truss and Johnson apart, were also rewarded. As olive branches to different factions were thrust in the direction of all corners of Westminster, Kemi Badenoch was re-appointed trade secretary and Penny Mordaunt retained as leader of the House of Commons. No senior than the posts they received under Truss, and therefore no immediate threat. Suella Braverman, a key right-wing voice in the party, also got her job as Home Secretary back as a reward for backing Sunak over Johnson.

In terms of Scotland, the return of Michael Gove to the levelling-up portfolio and the stability in Alister Jack as Scotland Secretary will mean not much will change from the pre-Truss era.

There are, however, two key questions that Sunak will end up asking. Is this the team he dreamt of while running for Prime Minister over the summer, and does he trust them all completely? That feels unlikely. Can he, as Prime Minister of such a fractured party, hold on to appearances of unity for long enough to recover ahead of a general election? Time will tell but that feels a tall order.

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