Allies' promotions reinforce Sunak's grip on power

time:2023-06-02 15:59:38source:BBC News (British Broadcasting Corporation) author:Press center 1

Rishi Sunak has appointed two close allies to the senior positions vacated by the resignation of Dominic Raab.

Oliver Dowden becomes deputy prime minister and Alex Chalk gets his first cabinet job as justice secretary.

Mr Dowden, as cabinet office secretary, already played a key role at the heart of the prime minister's administration.

But both men have long been close to Mr Sunak and it was no surprise when they re-entered government following the short-lived tenure of Liz Truss.

Like the prime minister, both were first elected to Parliament in 2015 and are firm friends with him - though, unlike Mr Sunak, both voted to remain in the EU in the Brexit referendum.

Mr Dowden, 44, ran Mr Sunak's leadership campaign last summer and Mr Chalk, 46, was one of his most enthusiastic supporters.

Mr Dowden had served as a junior minister under Theresa May, and at the cabinet office and as culture secretary under Boris Johnson, before he became Conservative Party Co-Chairman in September 2021.

But he resigned from Mr Johnson's cabinet on the morning after the party suffered by-election defeats in Wakefield, and Tiverton and Honiton, in June 2022, saying: "We cannot carry on with business as usual."

Within two weeks, Mr Johnson had quit as Tory leader.

In a tweet, Mr Dowden, MP for Hertsmere in Hertfordshire, said he was "deeply honoured" by his latest appointment.

For Mr Chalk - who like the prime minister attended elite private school Winchester - this is a significant promotion. He moves from the Ministry of Defence, where he was in charge of procurement.

He represents Cheltenham in Gloucestershire, but had a majority of just 981 over the Liberal Democrat candidate at the last general election.

As justice secretary, he will be no stranger to legal matters. A trained barrister, he is a former solicitor general for England and Wales, and has been prisons and probations minister.

He has described his new job as "a hugely important brief that upholds the values of our great country - the rule of law, justice for victims and the right to a fair trial".

Mr Chalk is the 11th person appointed to the post since the Conservatives took power in 2010.

With a reputation for being sunny, affable and unfailingly polite, the new justice secretary is very different to his predecessor - or at least the character described in Adam Tolley KC's report.

You might say they're Chalk and cheese.

These appointments say something about the prime minister's confidence too.

When he became prime minster last October, he made a point of keeping several former Liz Truss supporters in the cabinet - such as Therese Coffey, Sella Braverman and Alister Jack.

Six months on and with the Tory party in parliament in a state of comparative calm, he has used this moment to reward the ranks of Team Sunak and to buttress his premiership with loyalists.

Downing Street has also announced that Chloe Smith will cover as science secretary while Michelle Donelan is on maternity leave.

Ms Smith, who was work and pensions secretary under Liz Truss, is to stand down as MP for Norwich North at the next general election.

James Cartlidge has taken over from Mr Chalk as defence procurement minister, while his previous job as exchequer secretary has gone to Gareth Davies.

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