Theresa May wakes this morning to the immensity and responsibility of the role she now has, with our nearest neighbour and one of our closest allies under attack for the third time in 18 months. The shocking, devastating images coming from Nice will surely shake the political class, and indeed all British people, after a remarkable week in politics but one which has been remarkably domestic, even insular, in outlook.
As Home Secretary for six years, May is well versed in dealing with matters of utmost seriousness and national security. The defence secretary too is an experienced hand, one of only four Cabinet Ministers to keep their jobs in what started looking like a reshuffle and ended as a wholly new Government. People will be more interested in whether Boris Johnson, the new Foreign Secretary, can rise to the gravity of the situation. With his prominence in British politics over the last decade, it is easy to forget that this is actually his first role in Government. Arguably, he is the least experienced Foreign Secretary Britain has ever had, and whilst a formidably intelligent man, as he sits in briefings from the security services this morning he will have to learn on the job as never before. Even Boris’ best friends say his biggest problem is his short attention span – and the Foreign Office and security service mandarins will not tolerate that in the way GLA officers were forced to for eight years.
Against this backdrop Theresa May will complete the process of appointing her Government today and over the weekend. Today, we can expect to see the Minister of State level put in place. These are the key lieutentants in any Government debate responsible, amongst other things, for stewarding legislation through the Commons on a day-to-day basis. With EU negotiations ahead, a lot of attention is bound to focus on the Foreign Office team under Boris Johnson, and also those Ministers supporting Brexit Secretary David Davis and International Trade Secretary Liam Fox. One big question to be answered over the coming days is how those three roles relate to each other. With three huge personalities having apparently overlapping responsibilities, the potential for conflict is obvious. And if there is one thing Theresa May will not accept in her Cabinet is squabbling amongst her top team.
But this process of completing the formation of the Government will take place with a good deal less media spotlight now, as events in Nice make our obsession with who will be the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Ordering Paperclips seem a little trivial. Theresa May presented herself as a serious figure for serious times. On her third day in the job, she will need to be.