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Is Rishi Sunak surrounding himself with people who tell him what he wants to hear? | Politics News

The resignation of Ben Wallace was no surprise, but Rishi Sunak’s choice of replacement has ruffled some feathers.

Wallace was by far the most popular cabinet minister before his exit, with a popularity rating of +76, compared to just +3 for his replacement, according to ConservativeHome’s monthly rankings.

But despite his lack of popularity or military experience, Shapps is seen as a smooth operator and an able communicator on the airwaves.

Politics live: Shapps promises to maintain support for Ukraine

The new defence secretary is also known for his presence on social media, refusing to leave TikTok after it was banned on government devices due to security reasons.

This is something the prime minister will see as an asset, as he is keen on snappy social media posts, explainer graphics and videos to engage the public on government policy.

Moreover, in last year’s summer leadership race (after dropping out himself) Shapps backed Sunak’s bid to become PM, so is seen as a loyalist and ally in Number 10.

And the undeniable tensions between the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and the Treasury under Wallace will have likely played a part in the prime minister’s decision to replace him with someone less likely to kick up a fuss over defence spending.

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‘UK defence in a vulnerable state’

Wallace’s legacy will be that of a secretary of state who fought tooth and nail for his department, in part due to his relentless battling for the increase of the defence budget.

He is a former soldier and is personally and emotionally invested in the Armed Forces in a way that Shapps can never be.

This should mean Sunak will have less aggravation from the MoD over departmental budgets moving forward to the Autumn Statement and next year’s Budget.

But with a loyalist unlikely to cause great difficulties for the Treasury ahead of the next general election, will defence figures see this as an ominous sign of what is to come?

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‘What do you know about defence Grant Shapps?’

Labour sources tell me they believe Wallace’s record on the British Armed Forces has been poor and that they want to see Shapps boost resources.

Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats have called Shapps a “yes-man” who will leave the UK less safe as a result.

But it’s not just the opposition that are less than enthused by the new hire.

One Tory MP and former cabinet minister tells me: “He’s very good at self-promotion – not sure he’s so good at actually doing the job.

“And it shows once again that Number 10 has a lack of judgement. Shapps has no following in the party.”

Also, the appointment of Claire Coutinho as the new energy security secretary – another staunch Sunak loyalist – is seen by some of her fellow MPs as a bit of a stretch.

Elected in 2019 and having been a minister for less than 12 months, Coutinho will be keen to prove her ability in a department so crucial to the future of the British economy.

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