A cabinet of all talents

Our regular feature provides an opportunity to pick a ‘dream cabinet’, composed of any living person in the world. You must also abolish one department and create a new one. This edition, Mary Riddell.

I have tried to pick a balanced Cabinet – that is, one that is roughly equally weighted between men and women, politicians and outsiders, business people and social reformers. The quality I’ve looked for in all my nominations is leadership. Of necessity, Westminster is a community of followers, in which bold thinkers are constrained by collective responsibility and the requirement never to show dissent.

I’m conscious, however, of the need for a cohesive government. I believe this line-up of pragmatic mavericks would demonstrate solidarity as well as bringing to bear the skills, the knowledge and the imagination that all governments tend to lack. Finally, in a post-recession Parliament, they will need better to utilise the dwindling public finances. I’ve chosen those in charge of big spending departments with that criterion in mind.

Chancellor of the Exchequer
Thomas Piketty

The post-crash era demands a fresh thinker able to redraw the economic model and drive through changes radical enough to address the inequalities disfiguring society. Piketty’s latest book on Capital and his plans for a global wealth tax have attracted admiration from politicians who would not dare follow his prescription.

Foreign Secretary
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

As Africa’s first elected female head of state, the Liberian president believes that seemingly intractable problems can have a resolution. As a Nobel Peace Prize winner, she would broker solutions in a world made more unstable by western interventions.

Home Secretary
Dame Anne Owers

A former chief inspector of prisons, she would avoid the lure of mass incarceration that bedevils most Home Secretaries. Incumbents have limited impact on immigration and borders, but they can (though never do) reform a punishment machine that dispenses billions of pounds on making criminals irredeemable and the public less safe.

Secretary of State for Defence
Hans Blix

As weapons inspector in Iraq, his request for more time went (disastrously) unheeded by Tony Blair. I’m looking for a diplomat and expert on nuclear disarmament who will move away from the notion that Britain’s influence is wielded in hard power. He would, I hope, scrap or drastically curtail Trident renewal.

Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills


Secretary of State for Work and Pensions
Carolyn McCall

Business people don’t have a good track record in government, but her success at EasyJet suggest that her skills would translate. Insofar as a ‘fair’ airline exists, it’s hers. Being able to offer a reliably good service to young and old, to richer and poorer is a vital part of this job. So is toughness to take hard decisions, especially on pensions.

Secretary of State for Justice
Sir Keir Starmer QC

A bold Director of Public Prosecutions who helped secure convictions for Stephen Lawrence’s murder and wrote welcome guidelines on assisted dying, he respects the rule of law and would be unlikely to cave in to populism on issues such as prisoner voting. He would also be vital in helping forge a cheaper and more streamlined criminal justice machine.

Secretary of State for Education
Dame Tessa Jowell MP

As the godmother of Sure Start, a lecturer at Harvard and a parent, she understands all tiers of education. A non-ideologue who is good at aligning diverse interests, she would hopefully leave it to heads to drive through much-needed change – such as more sport, more language teaching and, most of all, engaging the children who simply tune out of learning.

Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government
Jon Cruddas MP

As the prime mover in urging Ed Miliband to give power to the people, Cruddas would be there to practise what he preaches and – in devolving money and responsibility to cities, regions and individuals – create a system robust enough to mean that his final role would be to close his department down for good.

Secretary of State for Health
Sir Cyril Chantler

An eminent paediatrician and distinguished public servant, he dipped a toe into politics by persuading the government to implement plain packaging for cigarettes. He argues that the NHS must be redesigned from the bottom up, and he has the expertise and empathy to make that happen. Expect a revolution in primary care, with highly-trained GPs offering the sophisticated, one-stop services that have cut cancer deaths elsewhere in Europe.

Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Jamie Oliver

A fine campaigner, Oliver took on government over school lunches, highlighted the risks and cruelties of rearing battery chickens and has a track record of helping disadvantaged young people get qualifications and work. He should be equipped to tackle food manufacturers over excess sugar and salt as well as pitching in on issues such as conservation, fracking and the balance between protecting the countryside and mass house-building.

Secretary of State for International Development
Glenys Kinnock and Mary Robinson

The former Africa Minister and one-time President of Ireland are tough and compassionate operators, as much at home in baby-feeding centres as in presidential palaces. I’ve made this a job share to underline the scope and importance of their work in helping the poorest people in the world and redefining Britain’s global role.

Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change
Caroline Lucas MP

Energy ministers, be they ever so green, tend to lose their colour like bleached lettuces once in office. Public opinion, Treasury strictures and the long-term nature of their agenda (as against the short-tern requirements of politics) all induce de-greening. As the Green Party’s first and only MP and a redoubtable campaigner, Lucas would resist such pressures.

Secretary of State for Transport
Christine Lagarde

She has been an excellent finance minister and a successful head of the IMF as well as heading a number of French government departments. This role, a first for her, would elevate the status of a department whose role is crucial in reforging the economy. As a citizen of France, a country where good railways get built fast, she would be invaluable at driving through HS2.

Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport
Arsene Wenger

The Arsenal coach is not nicknamed ‘Le Professeur’ for nothing. He has an economics degree, is fluent in more European languages than most politicians, speaks Japanese and understands the workings of the free press from years of post-match press conferences. The first and still the only philosopher/manager, he would be on top of every element of this brief.

To be abolished: Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills

I’d combine this department with Work and Pensions as a precursor to merging or abolishing other departments. If power is to be devolved to cities and regions, as it should be, then our vast edifice of government will quickly look anachronistic.

Your new Secretary of State, their title and responsibilities

Minister for Infrastructure
Lord Adonis

Andrew Adonis, with an impressive track record of making things happen, would be the progress chaser with responsibility for housing, including building at least five new garden cities. He would work with the Transport Secretary to deliver HS2 and restructure the railways and monitor the creation of community hubs, complete with daycare centres and green spaces, where people of all ages would access primary, social and child care.