Which Tories have been assets to the campaign – and who has been hiding?

Many Conservative ministers have been kept on a short leash in a tightly controlled election campaign. So who has earned Theresa May’s gratitude – and who has been kept out of view?

Theresa May

The prime minister has made daily campaign visits to all parts of the country, focusing on Conservative target regions such as the north of England, the Midlands, and Wales. However, she faced criticism for holding closed events to audiences of activists rather than addressing the general public, and her rare walkabouts have been brief. Initially, the Tory campaign was focused firmly on her leadership, branding it “strong and stable”. But in recent weeks the presidential-style message has been dropped as the polls have narrowed following her disastrous announcement of a shakeup of social care, dubbed a “dementia tax” by the opposition. May has also been the main voice appearing in the media, taking part in election interviews with Andrew Neil and Jeremy Paxman. However, she dodged the main election debate of the campaign held by the BBC, sending the home secretary, Amber Rudd, instead.

Visibility High, on her own terms

Stock Down. The social care disaster has dented her claim to be strong and stable, while the Labour phrase that she is “weak and wobbly” is catching on.

Amber Rudd

The home secretary is regarded by the prime minister as a reliable lieutenant, which accounts for her being chosen to stand in for May at the BBC election debate. She was the key government spokesperson following the NHS cyber-attack, rather than the health secretary; she fronted a new policy on domestic violence as the party tried to draw a line under the social care furore; and she defended the government’s cuts to police numbers following the Manchester terror bombing. When May was abroad, Rudd chaired the Cobra meeting on the counter-terrorism response. Her most memorable moment during the BBC debate was reference to “my manifesto”, hinting at potential ambitions to one day hold the top job.

Visibility High at times of crisis

Stock Up. Her willingness to take one for the Tory team by standing in for May in the television debate days after the death of her father has boosted her reputation. She is tipped as the next chancellor – or even party leader.

Philip Hammond

The chancellor has given just two press conferences during the election campaign. The first was about the economic “risk of Corbyn”, and the second was a joint appearance with May shortly after reports of tensions between the pair. The event was awkward as the prime minister several times refused to confirm he would keep his job if she wins the election for the Conservatives. He has been doing some campaigning for Tory candidates, most recently in Wrexham, where the Daily Post newspaper reported that Hammond refused to answer questions about a trust he owns holding shares in Castlemead, a company involved in a controversial North Wales housing development.

Visibility For a chancellor pretty low

Stock Down. He has been fairly invisible during the campaign and must fear for his job if May is returned as prime minister.

Boris Johnson

At the beginning of the campaign, the foreign secretary’s team had to repeatedly deny he was being sidelined in the election, as May took centre stage. But he has been deployed more frequently since the Conservative poll wobble began, most notably when he was dispatched to defend the social care package the day before May’s embarrassing U-turn. Although he was meant to be backing the policy, he was smart enough to say he understood people’s concerns and was sure there would be further consultation. The foreign secretary also tried distraction tactics, stealing the notes of his interviewer, Robert Peston, to interrupt a Tory MP expressing reservations about the policy. Johnson has also delivered some ugly attack lines on Corbyn, describing the Labour leader as a “mutton-headed old mugwump” and a “triple-headed monster”, as well as claiming the BBC’s debate audience on Wednesday night was too leftwing. And he has not been gaffe-free, after he was berated by a worshipper in a Sikh temple by discussing his enthusiasm for a boost in the whisky trade, apparently without realising that alcohol is forbidden under some Sikh teachings.

Visibility Moderate, but on a leash

Stock No change. Johnson has not done anything to harm his future leadership prospects so far, with the blame for May’s diminished poll lead squarely on her own shoulders.

Liam Fox

Liam Fox.
Liam Fox. Photograph: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP/Getty Images

Fox has been nowhere in the election campaign, giving no press conferences or major television interviews. The trade secretary has been out campaigning with local candidates but is not one of the inner circle trusted to be a prominent voice for the Tories during their campaign. His exclusion may have occurred after a humiliating interview on Sky’s Sophy Ridge show in March, when he denied sending a tweet saying the UK was “one of the few countries in the European Union that does not need to bury its 20th-century history” while sitting in front of a giant screenshot of it.

Visibility Near invisible

Stock Down. Fox has been irrelevant in the campaign despite his responsibility for negotiating crucial trade deals with non-EU countries after Brexit.

David Davis

The Brexit secretary is one of May’s more trusted cabinet ministers, and is one of the few to have given a press conference during the campaign. He has also done numerous interviews and introduced the party’s badly received manifesto. But he has done little to shift the dial for the Conservatives either way, although he was caught in an awkward moment on Good Morning Britain when he appeared to have no idea what was going on when the presenter made repeated references to Noel Edmond’s Deal or No Deal programme.

Visibility Middling

Stock No change. Davis has made no significant errors in numerous media appearances but neither has he made a huge mark on the campaign.

Michael Fallon

Michael Fallon
Michael Fallon. Photograph: Jack Taylor/Getty Images

The defence secretary has been deployed by May as a Tory attack dog in much the same way as he was used by David Cameron in 2015, making jibes at Corbyn for “muddled and dangerous” thinking over terrorism. The cabinet minister is an ally of the prime minister and possible choice as a replacement for Philip Hammond as chancellor. However, he slipped up when he condemned remarks blaming terrorism on Britain’s foreign policy, thinking they were spoken by Jeremy Corbyn when they actually came from Boris Johnson a few years ago. Fallon was also skewered by Emily Thornberry, the shadow foreign secretary, who pointed out he metSyrian dictator Bashar al-Assad in 2007.

Visibility Very prominent

Stock No change. Fallon has had a few misshaps on air but he is still trusted by the Tories deliver their most aggressive lines on the airwaves.

Jeremy Hunt

Jeremy Hunt.
Jeremy Hunt. Photograph: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP/Getty Images

Hunt has not been very conspicuous during the campaign, perhaps owing to his deep unpopularity with health workers. He gave an Andrew Marr Show interview early in the election in which he was grilled about nurses using foodbanks, and was kept off the airwaves for the first three days after the NHS cyber-attack. He only popped up on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this week, attacking the show for its reporting of problems in the NHS. He does appear, however, to have been campaigning in his constituency, where he is facing a challenge from an independent NHS doctor backed by some local Labour, Lib Dem and Green activists.

Visibility Restricted

Stock Down. The health secretary is tipped to be replaced if May wins the election and reshuffles her team, potentially by junior minister Ben Gummer, who helped write the manifesto.

Justine Greening

Justine Greening.
Justine Greening. Photograph: Ben Birchall/PA

Cuts to schools funding have been a major issue in the election, with headteachers and parents pleading for an end to the shakeup that means many will lose out. But the education secretary has barely been on the national airwaves. She has however been quoted in local newspapers saying she is pleased that the Conservatives have promised to consult on changes to the controversial new funding formula. But Greening, who is thought to be privately sceptical of May’s push for a new wave of grammar schools, is clearly not one of the main voices for the Tories in this campaign.

Greening did however make an appearance on BBC Radio on Thursday to defend the Conservatives’ costs for its plan to give free breakfasts to all primary school children, which experts have claimed works out at 7p per pupil.

Visibility Extremely low key

Stock Down. Greening has had little impact on the national campaign despite education being such a big subject.

Damian Green

Damian Green.
Damian Green. Photograph: Richard Saker/The Observer

The work and pensions secretary has been fairly high profile, most obviously when he insisted May “won’t look again” at her social care plans the day before the party signalled a major U-turn. The fact he was given the hospital pass of defending the unpopular policy, dubbed a “dementia tax” by the opposition, meant he was trusted to hold the line for the prime minister. But he was left embarrassed by the change of tack as well as his inability to say who would lose their winter fuel allowance, or how the new means testing of home care would work. He was also one of the Tories sent out to the “spin room” after the BBC debate, where he was ambushed by Emily Thornberry challenging him over the absence of Theresa May – an encounter that descended into an unedifying squabble, as he accused Labour of having the “most economically illiterate manifesto since 1983”.

Visibility High

Stock No change. On the one hand, Green’s defence of the social care package left him exposed to ridicule, but equally this will have earned him some brownie points with the leadership. He is another possible tip for chancellor if the Conservatives win and Hammond is removed.


Rowena Mason

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Leadsom promoted and Gove sacked as Theresa May overhauls cabinet
New prime minister elevates her one-time leadership rival but axes the justice, education and culture secretaries

Peter Walker Political correspondent

14, Jul, 2016 @5:45 PM

Article image
Who will be in Theresa May's cabinet?
The new PM’s first job when taking office will be to appoint a team of ministers that can unite the Tory party and the country

Rowena Mason Political correspondent

11, Jul, 2016 @5:10 PM

Article image
Tensions flare in cabinet over post-Brexit free movement
Divisions laid bare as Liam Fox reveals there is no cabinet-wide agreement on what a transitional implementation period should look like

Anushka Asthana Political editor

30, Jul, 2017 @10:46 PM

Article image
Conservative conference 2017: Boris Johnson urges Tories to 'let the lion roar' in upbeat speech - as it happened
Rolling coverage of the Conservative party conference in Manchester, including Theresa May’s morning interview round and Boris Johnson’s conference speech

Andrew Sparrow

03, Oct, 2017 @5:42 PM

Article image
What cabinet photo says about PM, Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt
With health secretary leaning in and foreign secretary manspreading, picture speaks a thousand words about Tory top team

John Crace

14, Sep, 2016 @1:08 PM

Article image
Heathrow third runway: what does the Tory cabinet think?
Where Theresa May’s team stand on the proposed expansion of the west London airport

Rowena Mason Deputy political editor

14, Oct, 2016 @8:06 PM

Article image
Conservatives split on whether May should sack Johnson or Hammond
Brexiters and remainers divided as pressure for fresh talent increases on prime minister, whose position may be too weak for a reshuffle

Rowena Mason and Heather Stewart

13, Oct, 2017 @4:56 PM

Article image
Election 2017: May appeals to MPs for support as her future hangs in balance
Prime minister expected to signal at 1922 committee meeting that she will run government in a less controlling way, after carrying out modest reshuffle

Heather Stewart Political editor

12, Jun, 2017 @6:28 AM

Article image
May to move or sack quarter of cabinet in wide-ranging reshuffle
Prime minister to assert authority, though Boris Johnson, David Davis, Amber Rudd and Philip Hammond likely to keep jobs

Andrew Sparrow and Peter Walker

07, Jan, 2018 @8:06 PM

Article image
Theresa May's five key cabinet players in Brexit negotiations
Three leavers and two remainers will each play an important role in talks to reach deal with the EU

Anushka Asthana

31, Aug, 2016 @7:19 PM