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Theresa May cabinet proves home-counties heavy

Swans on on the river Thames in Maidenhead, Theresa May’s own constituency in the home counties.
Swans on on the river Thames in Maidenhead, Theresa May’s own constituency in the home counties. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

Theresa May’s cabinet has the most members from the home counties in more than two decades, with more than two-thirds of the most senior ministers representing seats in southern England.

Only seven of the 22 full cabinet ministers represent constituencies in the Midlands or north of England. Those seven hold safe Tory shire seats that are outside major provincial cities and are in the top 20% of affluent communities.

A Guardian analysis of May’s cabinet shows four senior ministers represent seats in Surrey, including the chancellor, Philip Hammond, the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, and the environment secretary, Michael Gove. There are no cabinet ministers from constituencies in the north-east of England.

The departure of Patrick McLoughlin, who represents Derbyshire Dales, as party chairman left the east Midlands without any cabinet representation for the first time in three decades.

A majority, 13 out of 22, of the full cabinet represent seats in the 100 most affluent constituencies in England, with nine of them in the top 50.

Only four cabinet ministers represent seats outside the top 155 most affluent seats in England, with just two – Amber Rudd in the highly marginal Hastings and Rye, and Brandon Lewis in Great Yarmouth – representing seats amongthe 100 most deprived.

Map of May cabinet

After this week’s reshuffle by May, whose Maidenhead seat in Berkshire epitomises home counties England, it could be said the most significant shift of influence is from Kent, whose MPs Damian Green and James Brokenshire resigned, to Hampshire, whose MPs Damian Hinds and Caroline Nokes were given the right to attend cabinet for the first time.

Compared with May’s cabinet, David Cameron had nine senior ministers representing seats north of a line from the Bristol channel to the Wash.

Perhaps more importantly, four of the five top jobs in Cameron’s 2015 cabinet were held by MPs from outside London and the south-east. The deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, held a Sheffield seat, the first secretary of state, William Hague, held Richmond in Yorkshire, the chancellor, George Osborne, represented Tatton in Cheshire, and Ken Clarke represented Rushcliffe in the east Midlands.

Other senior ministers, including Bradford’s Eric Pickles and Danny Alexander from Inverness, ensured the centre of gravity in the coalition government was not anchored in the home counties.

The only ministers in May’s top 10 ministers from outside the south-east are the No 6 David Davis, the Brexit secretary, who holds Yorkshire’s Haltemprice and Howden - the 27th most affluent constituency in England – and no 7 Gavin Williamson, the defence secretary who represents Staffordshire South.

Osborne boasted this week that his former seat was represented in the cabinet again, but his successor, Esther McVey, occupies one of the lower rungs of full cabinet ministers as the work and pensions secretary.

Table of May's cabinet

Even Margaret Thatcher, who faced some of the strongest accusations of deepening the north-south divide, was careful to ensure her most senior ministers were not all drawn from southern English seats.

Willie Whitelaw, who served as her home secretary and deputy prime minister, represented the Cumbrian seat of Penrith and the Borders; Leon Brittan was Hague’s predecessor in Richmond, Yorkshire; and Nigel Lawson, held Blaby, in Leicestershire.

Gordon Brown’s Labour government, perhaps underlining the “two tribes” nature of British politics, had the opposite imbalance to May’s. He had just two London MPs, Harriet Harman and Tessa Jowell, and only one from the south-east, John Denham. Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet is strongly drawn from the party’s London and northern heartlands.

The former Tory cabinet minister Gillian Shepherd recently underlined the importance of the weekly constituency visit in shaping politicians’ views.

“Cynical political commentators almost invariably ignore the constituency element of a politician’s life … If Margaret Thatcher, at difficult moments, felt supported by Finchley, that is because Finchley knew every detail of its collective and individual life mattered to her,” Shepherd wrote in her book the Real Iron Lady.

  • This article was amended on 16 January 2018 to correct McVey’s position in cabinet.
This article titled "Theresa May cabinet proves home-counties heavy" was written by Alan Travis Home affairs editor, for The Guardian on Friday 12 January 2018 11.59am

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