LONDON — A time of crisis, former U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown once said, is “no time for a novice.” If that’s the case, then coronavirus came at a bad moment for Boris Johnson’s Cabinet.
Despite the Conservative Party having been in power for 10 years, the average member of the ministerial team leading the U.K. through its worst public health crisis in a century has just 19 months of Cabinet-level experience. Fourteen out of the 22 have been in Cabinet less than a year, and only one — the influential Whitehall fixer Michael Gove — is a veteran of David Cameron’s first Cabinet a decade ago.
Such inexperience is unusual in a government led by the same party for so long. One of the main causes? Brexit. The Tory Party’s civil war over EU membership and the Brexit deal ended or derailed the political careers of a string of senior politicians who in less fractious times would — in all likelihood — still be in top jobs.
But while Tory MPs and former ministers have expressed disquiet at the “sheer inexperience of the Cabinet” (as the conservative commentator Simon Heffer put it in the New Statesman) others question whether experience is everything. After all, the minister who, opinion polls say, is doing the best job in the eyes of the public is Chancellor Rishi Sunak, with just four months of Cabinet-level experience under his belt. And with huge economic and social changes predicted post-pandemic, fresh perspective might be just what’s needed.
But with the government’s actions during this crisis likely to be scrutinized intensely over the coming months, defining Johnson’s premiership and chances of eventual reelection, questions will continue to be asked about whether he was wise to put his faith in a new-look team at the top.