When our panel convened during the latter stages of lockdown, we thought we had come up with a definitive list of the most powerful and influential people in British politics. However, as we all know, if a week is a long time in politics, two months in an age. So out went Gavin Williamson and Sir Mark Sedwill. In came Sir Ed Davey and Douglas Ross.
Any list like this is open to criticism for who is left out and who forms the top ten. “I can’t believe [insert favourite politician’s name] is only at number 69” will be a common cry, but that’s the joy. There is no science to it, and it’s all about opinion and judgement. Our seven-strong panel was a mixture of journalists, ex-politicians and keen observers of the political scene. We spent a long time debating the difference between power and influence and whether Dominic Cummings was the most powerful man in Britain, or was his power limited by the prime minister? You will see from the top two placings that we came to the conclusion that despite some evidence to the contrary, Boris Johnson was still his own man and there were plenty of examples of him reining in some of his svengali’s more, ahem, interesting reform ideas.
There are naturally more Conservatives on this list than Labour representatives (32-28), given they are the party in power. Interestingly, when you try to divide the list up into left and right, the balance shifts 38-44 in favour of the left. In terms of gender balance, there are only 32 women on the list, although we would expect that proportion to grow in the coming years. There are 14 BAME representatives in the list, in line with the population, but interestingly there are three in the top ten.
We had an interesting discussion about where to place Sir Keir Starmer. In the end we plumped for just above the Speaker of the House of Commons but just below the first minister of Northern Ireland. Yes, he has made his mark on his party, and indeed the country, but the only place he exerts power is over the Labour Party. The second knight of the realm to lead a political party, Sir Ed Davey is the sole Lib Dem representative on the list, while the SNP fills five places, including, perhaps surprisingly, Alex Salmond. We feel Mr Salmond’s influence on his country’s politics is a long way from being over.
We indulged ourselves in a bit of talent spotting too, choosing a selection of individuals who we feel will shoot up the list next year, including Rosena Allin-Khan and Ben Nunn.
Cummings and goings
There are also a multitude of names that the political geeks are familiar with but the public is not. Munira Mirza, at number eight is the low-profile head of Boris Johnson’s policy unit. If Dominic Cummings performs the task of the PM’s right hand, Mirza is the left hand equivalent. Further down the list we find Helen MacNamara, a senior civil servant in charge of ethics. Her predecessor, Sue Gray, was often referred to in government circles as the most powerful person in government.
We also decided to include the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Prince of Wales as serial influencers. When they utter any word in public they are listened to and reported and their recommendations are sometimes acted upon. That’s real influence, whether we like to think of them as active participants or not.
It is possible to make a case for each and every cabinet minister being on this list, given the power they potentially wield, but some are more obvious than others. Oliver Dowden, the culture secretary, doesn’t make the cut, but only because his department is one where, as secretary of state, you can make lofty speeches but can you exercise real power? Sometimes, maybe, but not as often as the health secretary, Matt Hancock, whose profile has risen exponentially this year, for obvious reasons. Many cabinet ministers have been largely anonymous this year or have made zero impact. Brandon Lewis makes the cut because he’s one of the more regular government voices in the media – wheeled out when the going gets tough – whereas his equivalents in Wales and Scotland don’t make the cut because they have little UK national profile or influence.
It will be interesting to see when we come to compile the 2021 list how many of the current list cling on. A year, after all, is an eternity in politics.
Iain Dale’s Top 100 in British Politics
Boris Johnson is the prime minister of the United Kingdom and steward of the largest Conservative government since Margaret Thatcher, and unsurprisingly this puts him in the power seat. Once a journalist, briefly an MP, then the second mayor of London, Johnson returned to parliament in 2015, played a critical role in the Vote Leave campaign and was soon made foreign secretary by Theresa May after a short-lived attempt at the leadership position himself. An absolute favourite among the Brexiter Conservatives, Johnson was always the frontrunner in the 2019 Conservative leadership election. His premiership has seen a supreme court prorogation battle, a renegotiated withdrawal agreement, a thumping general election majority, Brexit, coronavirus and much more. It really has been a whirlwind 14 months. Challenges lie ahead, however, with civil service reform high on the government’s agenda, pressure to sign trade agreements with the European bloc as well as America, and the threat of another Scottish referendum, on top of the ongoing pandemic. It doesn’t look like the whirlwind is going away any time soon.
Rishi Sunak’s star has risen rapidly in the past 12 months. Having only entered the Commons in 2015 – succeeding William Hague in the Yorkshire seat of Richmond – Sunak’s enviable rise through the ranks has taken him to the post of chancellor of the exchequer. Born to mixed-race Hindu parents in the medical profession, Sunak was head boy at Winchester College, a first-class graduate at Oxford and a Fulbright scholar, completing a business degree at Stanford in 2006. After working for some time in investment banking, Sunak ran for parliament and was selected for the safe Conservative seat in 2014. During his early Commons career, Sunak was a keen Brexit supporter and penned an influential paper in favour of expanding free ports throughout the UK. Ever a shrewd judge of his party’s animal spirits, Sunak was an early supporter of Johnson’s candidacy for Conservative leader, and soon gained the cabinet post of chief secretary to the treasury before the surprise resignation of chancellor Sajid Javid in February 2020. When the coronavirus pandemic sent shockwaves through the UK economy, Sunak oversaw the introduction of the £14 billion-per-month job retention scheme. Sunak remains a darling of his party’s right wing and is an indispensable member of Boris Johnson’s top team. He is currently vying with Michael Gove to be the prime minister’s clear successor-in-waiting.
There should be no surprise that Dominic Cummings lands in the top three in a list of political power and influence, although there may be some questions raised as to why he lies no higher. A political strategist who masterminded Vote Leave – a campaign which positioned Boris Johnson for the office he holds today – Cummings has held a unique position in British politics since he was brought into Downing Street by Johnson. He is a divisive figure whose involvement in an illegal prorogation of parliament, a snap election victory, a breach of lockdown, and grand plans of Whitehall reform have earned him supporters and critics alike. He has spearheaded efforts to overhaul the civil service, warning civil servants of an impending “hard rain”. His unquestionable ability as a political operative, however unpopular many of his actions may be, has won him intense support from the prime minister whose 80-seat majority might not have been possible without Cummings. Such loyalty extended to the prime minister defending his lockdown infringement, and several ministers told journalists that they would expect less solidarity from the PM amid their own scandal. A cerebral thinker with an irascible edge, such is Cummings’ influence over the government: they may well be right.
All things considered, Nicola Sturgeon has had quite a good 12 months. The SNP romped home in Scotland at the general election last December, and her clear messaging and handling of the coronavirus pandemic has been well received. It is for the all-time-high support for Scottish independence that puts her in the Mace top ten. Her influence on British politics has been immense since even before she became first minister in 2014, and the pressure on the British government to allow IndyRef2 is going to be unabated under her leadership. Challenges remain for Sturgeon who has had to see off pressure from her own party to press ahead with a referendum without Westminster approval, and she has taken fire from opposition parties about the state of Scottish education (particularly with the exam results U-turn) and other devolved issues. But with a draft bill in the offing and an SNP set to dominate next year’s Holyrood elections, Sturgeon looks set to maintain her iron grip on Scottish politics and her unparalleled regional power cements her place at the top of this list.
Andrew Bailey did not take over the Bank of England at an easy time. In mid-March 2020, the impact of Covid-19 was unavoidable, and he had to take quick action to respond to the economic downturn. Within a week of taking up the governorship, the Monetary Policy Committee cut interest rates to an historic low of 0.1 per cent, and the Bank has taken a range of other measures to support business and the economy. He previously served as the Bank of England’s chief cashier for seven years (2004-2011) and was most recently the chief executive of the Financial Conduct Authority. Widely considered a cautious and competent overseer, Bailey has already had, and will continue to have, an essential role to play in shoring up the economy.
Simon Case is the UK’s 13th cabinet secretary nor does he join in the most auspicious of circumstances. Brought in to Downing Street in May 2020 to help oversee the coronavirus response, he succeeds Sir Mark Sedwill whose agreement to step down coincided with a series of hostile briefings against him. Yet Case is a trusted figure by the Johnson administration, having been handpicked from Kensington Palace earlier in the year, and directly encouraged by the prime minister to apply for his current position. Crucially, Case’s selection would appear to have the support of Dominic Cummings who is on a mission to overhaul the civil service. This may in part be because, although Case has a wealth of experience at the heart of government, he is not a Whitehall bureaucrat through and through but has also in his career worked for GCHQ and the Duke of Cambridge. There is no reason to think that his choice is an overtly political one, rather he was seen as the most competent man for the job. It will be essential for Johnson and Cummings to work with, rather than against, the head of the home civil service in their quest to shake up Whitehall, and as such Case holds an essential role in the government machine.
As first secretary of state, Dominic Raab is Boris Johnson’s de facto right-hand man, as was witnessed by his leading the government during Johnson’s battle with Covid-19. In addition he is secretary of state at the newly created Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, and will be kept busy running this new department on top of the plethora of international issues the UK currently faces. An ardent campaigner for Brexit, Raab was one of several ministers to join the Vote Leave campaign in 2016. Following the resignation of David Davis over Theresa May’s Chequers proposal in July that year, Raab was appointed Brexit secretary, but served in the post for just four months before resigning over Theresa May’s draft withdrawal agreement. He stood in the Conservative leadership election in 2019, but, after failing to garner enough support in the early rounds of voting, he supported Boris Johnson. He was rewarded with the roles of foreign secretary and first secretary of state and remains a solid supporter of, and spokesman for, Boris Johnson’s government.
Perhaps the least well known figure in The Mace Top Ten, there is no denying Munira Mirza’s influence. Behind Dominic Cummings, Mirza is arguably the most influential adviser in Downing Street. Heading up the policy unit there, Mirza is an Oldham-born, comprehensive-educated Muslim woman with rare access to the Prime Minister’s ear. Once a student radical, Mirza impressed Johnson during his London Mayoralty and quickly proved her worth during his premiership in coauthoring the triumphant 2019 Conservative party manifesto, with its pledges to boost police numbers and increase NHS funding. A frequent and public backer of Johnson’s spikier side – including, crucially, his infamous “letterboxes” comment – Mirza has repeatedly shown herself to be a true loyalist. In June, Mirza was the controversial choice to oversee the government’s newly established race commission, controversial since Mirza has questioned the validity of arguments alleging the existence of institutional racism in the UK. But whatever her critics think, Mirza’s meteoric rise doesn’t show any signs of tailing away any time soon.
Michael Gove is the chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and the Conservative MP for Surrey Heath. Born in Aberdeen, Gove studied English at Oxford where he assisted Boris Johnson in his campaign to become president of the Oxford Union before taking on that role himself. After working as a journalist and for centre-right think tank Policy Exchange, Gove was elected in Surrey Heath in 2005, and has had a nigh-constant present in British politics in the past decade, only missing out on a cabinet role in the first year of Theresa May’s tenure. After his high-profile support for Vote Leave, Gove was set to be Boris Johnson’s king-maker, but at the last minute decided to run in the Conservative leadership campaign himself. Three years later, Gove again put his name forward to be the Conservative leader, but again he failed to reach the final round of the election. No matter, because Gove has become a government operative with an unparalleled longevity of the past ten years and Boris Johnson brought him into his top team with special responsibility for no-deal Brexit preparations. In addition, Gove is the minister working hand-in-hand with Dominic Cummings for civil service reform, criticising the institution for “groupthink” earlier this year. Gove is considered to be positioning himself for the post-Johnson era, competing with Rishi Sunak to be his successor, but his influence is already more than sufficient to merit a place in the top ten.
The final great office of state in the top ten is held by Priti Patel whose Brexit credentials positioned her for the prestigious role of home secretary. She was first elected in 2010 and gradually worked her way into David Cameron’s government. Unsurprisingly, she supported Leave in 2016, one of several ministers to campaign against her leader, and was promoted by Theresa May in the referendum’s aftermath to secretary of state for international development. She voted against May’s withdrawal agreement on all three occasions, and was won over by Boris Johnson when he contested the leadership. He appointed her home secretary in return, and immigration has been, and will be, one of her crucial policy areas after leaving the EU. The Home Office may be a poisoned chalice of government, but Patel remains at the forefront of government policy.
Arlene Foster succeeded Peter Robinson as leader of the DUP in December 2015 and first became first minister of Northern Ireland one month later. As leader of the DUP, Foster negotiated a confidence-and-supply agreement with the Conservative minority government led by Theresa May after the 2017 general election. Yet the DUP voted against May’s Brexit deal on three occasions with the arrangements for Northern Ireland proving too great an obstacle to support. Boris Johnson opted to reverse the deal, moving the new customs border to the Irish Sea, again to the consternation of Foster’s party. Perhaps the biggest sticking point in negotiating an exit from Europe was the role of the Northern Ireland border, and recent reports suggest that the issue might not yet be settled. There is no doubt that Foster will make clear her feelings if the UK prime minister at all betrays the people of Northern Ireland.
A self-styled moderate with a technocrat’s demeanour, Sir Keir Starmer is the leader of the Labour Party and MP for Holborn and St Pancras. Named after his party’s founder James Keir Hardie, Starmer studied at the University of Leeds and St Edmund Hall, Oxford, qualifying as a human rights barrister in 1987. A former head of the Crown Prosecution Service, Starmer was elected to parliament in 2015. As an MP, Starmer made his name as a competent shadow Brexit secretary in Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet. Since the 2019 general election, Starmer has campaigned to move the party closer to the political centre, defeating Rebecca Long-Bailey to become leader in April 2020. Since becoming leader of the opposition, Starmer’s name recognition and personal ratings have improved vastly, and although the broader electoral prospects of his party remain a mountain to climb, if he plays his cards right his influence in British politics could increase much further.
The Speaker of the House of Commons has been MP for Chorley since 1997. Lancashire born and bred, Sir Lindsay Hoyle entered local politics aged 22 on the Chorley Borough Council and has gone from strength to strength ever since. Not one destined for a ministerial post, Hoyle sat on the trade and industry and European scrutiny committees before he was elected in June 2010 as chairman of ways and means and deputy speaker. He held the role for a decade, and was knighted in the 2018 New Year honours for parliamentary and political services. A popular and agreeable parliamentarian with friendships across the House, Hoyle was elected to replace John Bercow as Commons Speaker in November 2019. He vowed to be a neutral occupant of the chair, succeeding the controversial Bercow, and is the most important figure in facilitating MPs holding ministers to account in the House of Commons.
Helen MacNamara is the current director general of Propriety and Ethics as well as head of the Private Offices Group in the Cabinet Office. She began her career in the digital and creative industries before she joined the civil service. MacNamara worked in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport between 2002 and 2013 and was responsible for setting up the Leveson Inquiry. She joined the Cabinet Office in 2013 as director of the Economic and Domestic Secretariat, moved departments to become director general for Housing and Planning in 2016, and returned to the Cabinet Office in 2018 where she has continued in the same role. Situated at the heart of government with an expansive brief and at a time when the civil service is involved in a frosty relationship with the government, MacNamara has a challenging role keeping the wheels turning smoothly, and is certainly one to watch.
There is nothing atypical about Matt Hancock’s background, with a PPE degree from Oxford, an Economics master’s from Cambridge, and a career which includes the Bank of England and staffing former shadow chancellor George Osborne. He entered politics himself in 2010, and was gradually given ministerial responsibility by David Cameron. He first became a secretary of state at DCMS in Theresa May’s January 2018 reshuffle, and six months later replaced Jeremy Hunt as health secretary. An ambitious figure in Westminster, Hancock briefly contested the 2019 party leadership election, but on dropping out put his support behind Johnson who rewarded him with a continued health and social care brief. His importance at such a difficult time for the health of the country need not be overstated, and Hancock looks set to continue to be one of the most important government ministers as we continue to deal with Covid-19.
Welsh Labour’s Mark Drakeford has been the first minister of Wales since December 2018, but his involvement in politics long pre-dates his election in 2011. His career in local politics started on the South Glamorgan County Council in 1985, he participated heavily in the successful 1997 Yes For Wales campaign for devolution, and served from 2000 to 2010 as an advisor on health and policy in the Welsh cabinet, eventually heading up the first minister’s office. Within the assembly, Drakeford has served as chair of the health and social committee, minister for health and social services, cabinet secretary for finance and local government, and cabinet secretary for finance with responsibility for Brexit preparations. A notable member of the party’s left wing, Drakeford is an ally of numerous trade unions and was an early supporter of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the party.
Lord David Frost is the government’s chief Brexit negotiator and national security adviser. He joined the Johnson government in July 2019 as Europe adviser and started to lead said negotiations following the UK’s 31 January departure. Frost is somewhat a Foreign Office maestro. He was ambassador to Denmark between 2006 and 2008, followed by senior positions in Whitehall. He was special adviser to foreign secretary Boris Johnson, and remained in Johnson’s inner circle when he moved to Downing Street. Covid-19 and a perceived lack of willingness on both sides to negotiate have caused trade talks to stymie, yet Frost has been given additional responsibilities as national security adviser following Sir Mark Sedwill’s resignation. This appointment proved controversial, both for its political overtones and Frost’s lack of national security experience. As negotiations enter the final stretch and the management of important security briefs continue, no one doubts the significance of Lord Frost in Westminster.
A religious leader with a social justice focus, Justin Welby has been the Archbishop of Canterbury since 2013. Welby has focused particularly on promoting the role of the Church of England within wider society, prominently calling on the government to allow the entry of more Syrian refugees amid the 2015 migrant crisis. An alumnus of Eton and Cambridge, Welby served as dean of Liverpool and bishop of Durham before his enthronement as archbishop. Welby has campaigned alongside global religious leaders against modern slavery, the persecution of Christians, and against the need for food banks in the UK. The archbishop told the TUC in 2018: “I dream that governments… put church-run food banks out of business.” The Church of England’s sexuality review, ‘Living in Love and Faith’, will be published in November. When Welby speaks, people across the country take note, giving him influence worthy of the rank he holds.
The Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey began his union career as a clerical worker at the Liverpool docks, where he demonstrated his lifelong endorsement of trade unionism by organising white-collar workers at the dock, a group previously without a strong tradition of unionisation. Despite his status as general secretary of the second-largest union (elected in 2010, 2014 and 2017), McCluskey outstrips Dave Prentis of Unison in terms of political influence. Particularly since the 2015 general election, McCluskey has grown to become a leading figure in the national labour movement, and was one of Jeremy Corbyn’s “four Ms” (along with Karie Murphy, Seumas Milne and Andrew Murray), the former leader’s closest advisers. McCluskey has since pressed the government to extend the Treasury’s multibillion-pound job retention scheme amid the coronavirus pandemic, arguing that “the economic and human cost of mass unemployment for years to come is simply never a price worth paying”.
Sir Tom Scholar is a career civil servant and a true Treasury high flyer. Scholar studied at Cambridge and the LSE before joining the Treasury in 1992 where he served as principal private secretary to then chancellor Gordon Brown from 1997 to 2001. After several years in Washington as the British representative on the IMF and the World Bank boards, Scholar returned to Whitehall and moved between HM Treasury and Downing Street until he succeeded Sir Nicholas Macpherson as permanent secretary to the Treasury in 2016. Scholar is one of a small handful of the most senior Whitehall mandarins to remain in post amid the government’s broad reforms to the civil service, with his counterparts at the Foreign Office, the Home Office and Downing Street all having departed in 2020. A hugely consequential budget is approaching, and Scholar has the daunting task of getting the British economy back on its feet.
Although Robert Chote, chair of the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR), is due to depart in October, it is a mark of his influence on economic policy that sees him included in The Mace Top 100 nonetheless. The OBR was founded by the coalition government ten years ago to keep a close eye on government expenditure, with the primary functions of forecasting the state of public finances, challenging the government against its fiscal targets, scrutinising Treasury arithmetic and producing fiscal sustainability reports. With government spending estimated to have spiralled amid unprecedented macroeconomic challenges, data from the OBR will likely make grim reading for government officials for the foreseeable future. He will be succeeded in late 2020 by former IMF advisor Richard Hughes, but Chote’s work as the Treasury continues to repair the economy will have a profound effect on policy in the coming months.
Born in Wales, Buckland studied Law at Durham and practised as a barrister. Upon his election to parliament in 2010, Buckland joined the justice committee and was part of a campaign that called for prisoners’ phones to be destroyed or sold to raise money for victims’ charities, a move that was supported by then Labour MP Sadiq Khan. In 2014, Buckland was appointed solicitor general, a post he held for five years before his appointment in May 2019 as prisons minister. During the 2019 leadership campaign, Buckland expressed his support for Boris Johnson. Following Johnson’s victory, Buckland was appointed to his current role as justice secretary and lord chancellor. Unprecedented pressure has been put on his department by Covid-19, with a huge backlog in cases and a fear of virus outbreaks in prisons. His early actions mitigated the latter threat effectively, but there is still considerable work to be done.
Paul Johnson is the director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), the London-based think tank “launched with the principal aim of better informing public debate on economics”. Johnson joined the IFS in 1988 and in 1996 became the organisation’s deputy director. He left in 1998 for an advisory role at the Cabinet Office. Johnson gained experience at various related organisations including the Financial Services Authority, the Department for Education, and the Government Economic Service, before returning to the IFS in 2007. He became director in 2011. During his second spell at the think tank, Johnson has spoken about the economic risks surrounding Brexit. In light of economic damage wrought by Covid-19, Johnson warned that the dramatic increase in unexpected public spending will necessitate higher taxes in the long run, and his credentials look set to give him continued authority on economic policy during a turbulent time.
Dame Karen Pierce is the UK ambassador to the United States, holding the post since February 2020. She is the first woman to hold the position. Pierce studied English at Cambridge and gained a master’s in diplomacy from the LSE. She joined the Foreign Office in 1981 and climbed the ranks to reach her first ambassadorial role, to Afghanistan, from 2015 to 2016. She became the UK’s permanent representative to the UN in 2018 (following an equivalent appointment to the UN in Geneva in 2012). After predecessor Kim Darroch’s acrimonious resignation as ambassador to the US amid a leaked critical analysis of the president, Pierce was seen as a cautious and stable choice to take the post. The 2020 presidential election will determine how the UK approaches its “special relationship” going forward, and Pierce will be at the forefront of ensuring its success.
Only the 51st Clerk of the House of Commons since the creation of the post in 1363, Dr John Benger replaced retiree David Natzler in March 2019. Benger has been a member of the Commons staff since 1986 and in his current post advises members of the House on constitutional and procedural issues, as well as on parliamentary privilege. Dr Benger was the unanimous choice of the selection panel that decided on Natzler’s successor, with former Speaker John Bercow commenting that the new clerk has “outstanding qualities”. Benger is seen as something of a moderniser within a typically archaic institution, having previously worked as director of service delivery within the Commons’ department for information services. He has also celebrated parliament’s recent progress toward becoming a more diverse and inclusive workplace.
Michelle O’Neill is the vice president of Sinn Féin, the party’s leader in the Northern Ireland assembly and, since January 2020, deputy first minister of Northern Ireland. O’Neill joined Sinn Féin in 1998 after the signing of the Belfast Agreement. She was elected as an assembly member for Mid Ulster in 2007 and joined the Northern Ireland Executive in 2011. She became leader of Sinn Féin in the assembly in January 2017 following the resignation of Martin McGuinness, and gained a further promotion to Sinn Féin vice president in early 2018 when her predecessor, Mary Lou McDonald, replaced Gerry Adams as the party’s president. O’Neill has led the party’s calls for a referendum on Irish reunification amid the fallout of Brexit, and with the status of Northern Ireland seemingly still up for discussion at the end of the withdrawal period, O’Neill will certainly be a major voice in the debate.
Frances O’Grady is general secretary of the Trades Union Congress (TUC). Her assertive stewardship and an embrace of modernisation has characterised O’Grady’s tenure in the top job, which has included strikes by retail employees at McDonald’s and Sports Direct. The first woman to hold the job, O’Grady became general secretary of the TUC in 2013, She was listed as the 11th most powerful woman in Britain by Woman’s Hour that year. She campaigned for Remain in the EU referendum and later advocated membership of the single market, forging an unlikely alliance with the CBI. In June 2019, O’Grady became a non-executive director for the Bank of England. As the effects of the coronavirus pandemic shrank the UK economy by a quarter during the first half of 2020, O’Grady warned that mass unemployment was the biggest threat facing the country and favoured expanded government support for vulnerable workers.
Heir to the throne and the eldest son of the Queen, Prince Charles has been a central figure in British politics and society for more than five decades. Since the 1980s, the Prince of Wales has been an outspoken commentator on modern trends in architecture and one of the UK’s most prominent environmentalists. He is an enthusiastic diplomat, addressing the European Parliament twice and meeting with successive US presidents including Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump. Charles continues to comment on contemporary political issues from environmental degradation to (controversially) alternative medicine. Prince Charles told the World Economic Forum in June 2020 that the pandemic could provide global leaders the opportunity to “reset ourselves on a more sustainable path”. In 2019, Prince Charles took part in more engagements than any other member of the Royal Family; he is a constant presence with wide-ranging influence in British life.
Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, is the first practising Muslim to be mayor of a major European city. A central figure on his party’s so-called soft left, 2016 was his breakthrough year, with his mayoral election, prominent campaign for Remain, and support for Owen Smith in his challenge to leader Jeremy Corbyn. Khan’s primary focus has been transport: Khan introduced the popular hopper fare to aid bus passengers’ multiple journeys, and supported the expansion of Gatwick airport. Although initially a popular mayor with a comfortable winning margin in the 2016 contest, Khan has since been criticised for reversing his rent freeze election pledge and for failing to control London’s recent spike in knife crime. He nonetheless remains the favourite in the postponed 2021 mayoral election. Khan’s ear to current Labour leader Keir Starmer, who he supported for the post, may also prove an advantage to his doubtless ambitions.
Perhaps his party’s most influential and widely respected backbencher, Sir Graham Brady is the Conservative member for Altrincham and Sale West and chair of the 1922 Committee. Brady held several positions in the shadow cabinet under four different party leaders, but his influence shot up when he became chairman of the 1922 Committee in 2010 and was voted Backbencher of the Year by The Spectator. Brady briefly considered contesting the 2019 Conservative leadership election, resigning his position as chair of the 1922 Committee, but eventually returned to chair the 1922 as before. There was dismay among many Conservative MPs at the government’s performance when MPs returned from recess earlier this month and reports suggest that the prime minister will not last a full five years. Brady’s role makes him one to keep an eye on as the jostling begins to succeed Boris Johnson.
One of Boris Johnson’s closest advisers, Lee Cain was at Johnson’s side during the Vote Leave campaign and in the Foreign Office. He is now Downing Street’s director of communications. Cain forged an early alliance with Dominic Cummings that now reigns over Downing Street’s public-facing strategy. Cain worked in the Foreign Office alongside Johnson, making a good enough impression that he was one of the first names on the prime minister’s cast list when he entered Downing Street in July 2019. Cain has come to symbolise the government’s testy relationship with the media, which has included a ministerial boycott of Radio 4 and murmurs of revoking Channel 4’s broadcast license. During the 2019 general election campaign, “Caino” became one of a small handful of Johnson’s most trusted advisers. Cain’s test, however, will be how he gets along with colleagues outside of the court of Johnson.
Ben Gascoigne, the prime minister’s political secretary and one of his closest confidants, followed Boris Johnson from City Hall to the Foreign Office to Downing Street. The affable Gascoigne – “Gazza” to Dominic Cummings – graduated with a Politics degree from Hull in 2001 before taking a job at the Greater London Authority, where he became invaluable to the Johnson team. Gascoigne has been at the prime minister’s side through two mayoral campaigns, three general elections and the EU referendum. He is an internally popular figure known for his results as much as his personality. After the Conservatives’ sizeable election victory in December 2019, Gascoigne was promoted from deputy chief of staff to political secretary to the prime minister. He replaced Danny Kruger, now the Conservative MP for safe seat Devizes. Gascoigne will face few internal obstacles if he opts to follow a similar path.
Despite never holding frontline political office, Nigel Farage has been one of the most influential and divisive disruptors of UK politics for decades. The three-time UKIP leader and Brexit Party head is the country’s best-known eurosceptic, leading UKIP to first place in the 2013 local elections, third place (by votes won) in the 2015 general election, and UKIP’s first-ever parliamentary representation. His crowning achievement, however, was the Leave vote in 2016, and he has not retired from politics since. He won the 2019 EU elections with his newly created Brexit Party, and remains an outspoken critic of the government’s policy to trade and, especially recently, immigration. It remains to be seen if he will ever be sufficiently satisfied with the terms of an EU trade deal to walk away from politics for good. For now, he is one of the most recognised people in politics.
An essential ally of Boris Johnson’s, the calm and collected Sir Edward Lister, appropriately nicknamed Steady Eddie, became Johnson’s City Hall chief of staff and deputy mayor for policy and planning in 2011. During his tenure as one of London’s most important public servants, Lister was credited with guiding Johnson’s City Hall policy agenda and leading the Mayor’s comprehensive Olympic legacy programme. While working as chairman of Homes England from 2016, Lister became a board member of the Foreign Office during Johnson’s tenure as foreign secretary. He moved into Downing Street alongside Johnson in July 2019, becoming chief strategy adviser to the prime minister, second only to Dominic Cummings within the PM’s office. Lister is expecteds to depart in the near future and may return to his property consultancy, but for now he is a vital power broker at the top table.
The prime minister’s official spokesperson is a recently established position in the context of the Downing Street machine, but successive holders of the post have made their mark. As a former journalist, James Slack is a conventional holder of the position. Prior to becoming spokesperson, Slack was The Daily Mail’s home affairs editor where he authored the controversial November 2016 front-page piece “Enemies of the People”, which lambasted members of the high court after they ruled that an act of parliament would be required before the government could trigger article 50. The fallout from the piece led the Bar Council to establish a programme educating school pupils about the impartiality of the judiciary. Unlike much of Theresa May’s political staff, Slack was kept on by Boris Johnson when he became prime minister in July 2019.
Sir Simon Stevens is the chief executive officer of NHS England. A cautious and non-partisan manager with an invaluable knack for coexisting with holders of various political colours, Stevens has been an adviser on health policy since the Blair government. He became CEO of NHS England in 2014 and has promoted expanding much-needed social care and incorporating artificial intelligence into healthcare. On several occasions, he has expressed concerns over Brexit’s implications for the health sector. Publicly, he is known for his pledge of £50 million in additional NHS support to the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire, as well as for his opposition to cosmetic surgery adverts aired during ITV2’s Love Island. Stevens has campaigned to eliminate NHS funding of homeopathy. Stevens not only has to run the NHS as Covid-19 continues, but he will also have to lead from the front in learning from the pandemic experience for the future.
Dean Godson is the director of Policy Exchange, the well-connected centre-right think tank that includes Michael Gove among its alumni. Godson has been at Policy Exchange since 2005 (director since 2013), but has prior experience working for politicians on both sides of the Atlantic and in journalism. A wonkish commentator with a keen interest in Northern Ireland, Godson is the author of a popular biography of David Trimble. He has also written a number of influential blog posts for ConservativeHome. Amid the Conservatives’ ongoing schism on China, Godson has observed that a tougher Downing Street approach toward the People’s Republic is likely. This was followed up by the government’s announcement that Huawei will be removed from the UK’s 5G networks by 2027, provoking fury from Chinese officials.
Isaac Levido’s appointment as the Conservatives’ director of politics and campaigning in August 2019 sparked rumours, ultimately proved correct, that Boris Johnson would call a snap general election. Levido, an Australia-born election strategist and one of Lynton Crosby’s right-hand men, is a feared political pollster who has been instrumental in numerous election campaigns throughout the world. After working on Conservative election strategy in 2015 and 2017, the polling expert was given full authority by Dominic Cummings in summer 2019 to prepare the Conservative “war machine”, overseeing campaigning and the government’s political strategy from bases in Downing Street and CCHQ. He was brought back into Downing Street in March this year to tighten up government coronavirus messaging, so it doesn’t look like his importance to Johnson and co. has waned since last December.
Liz Truss has been international trade secretary since July 2019, a mark of her support of the prime minister as well as a continuation of the previous five years inclusion or attendance to the cabinet. Truss grew up in a Labour-voting household before studying PPE at Oxford. She contested parliamentary seats in 2001 and 2005, and was elected in 2010. She has served as environment secretary, lord chancellor (in which role she was severely criticised for not defending the high court’s decision to prevent the royal prerogative from triggering article 50, later upheld in the supreme court) and chief secretary to the Treasury prior to her current role. Although initially a supporter of the Remain campaign, Truss has since become a steadfast supporter of the so-called Global Britain campaign, now leading the department most closely tied to its ongoing realisation.
After a sixteen-year stint in parliament, Andy Burnham, a former secretary of state for culture, media and sport, and for health, became the mayor of Greater Manchester in 2017. The MP for Leigh from 2001, Burnham held his cabinet posts under Gordon Brown and was a senior shadow minister under Ed Miliband. Yet losing the 2015 Labour leader contest to Jeremy Corbyn weakened his place in the parliamentary party, and he identified the newly created Mancunian mayoralty as the best place for him to continue his public service. A lifelong Everton fan born on Merseyside, Burnham has often been critical of London-centric politics, previously bemoaning the Westminster bubble and the failure to deliver the touted northern powerhouse. If the so-called ‘red wall’ has provided additional impetus to funding north of the Wash, Burnham will be one of the leading and most respected voices during its implementation.
Claiming to represent some 190,000 businesses across the UK, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) is one of the UK’s most influential voices on commerce and the economy and has been led since 2015 by Dame Carolyn Fairbairn. Fairbairn gained a double-first in Economics at Cambridge, going on to earn a master’s in international relations from Pennsylvania University and an MBA at INSEAD, Paris. She has worked for the World Bank, McKinsey, in John Major’s Downing Street, for the BBC and for ITV, as well as having held numerous non-executive directorships. Fairbairn will depart from the post at the end of 2020, extending her five-year term through the autumn amid the coronavirus pandemic, yet despite her impending departure, this leading business lobbyist still has plenty to do in the next few months, and will play a critical role in helping the government help businesses at this challenging time.
Labour’s longest serving prime minister and the winner of the party’s largest majority, Tony Blair is nonetheless a divisive figure within his party’s ranks. There is a parallel between Blair and Keir Starmer in their quest for electability, and Starmer has some experienced New Labour voices in his shadow cabinet, but Blair’s influence goes beyond possible inspiration for Starmer. He became a UN envoy to the Middle East for a few years and continues to be interested in the troubled region. He was an outspoken critic of Brexit during the referendum campaign and in its aftermath. He currently chairs the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change. The institute employs over 200 people in 19 countries, and fights for the centre ground to provide solutions for global challenges. Blair fights hard for what he believes in, and remains an important figure to listen to.
One of the UK’s most sought-after public relations executives, Mark Gallagher has become an industry leader in the field of public opinion. He founded PR firm Pagefield in 2010 whose clients include Airbnb and British Airways. His talents are used in the advice he gives the Archbishop of Canterbury and he sat on the advisory board co-ordinating the Thames pageant for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebration. Gallagher has more recently been employed by Prince Andrew over accusations surrounding his friendship with serial abuser Jeffrey Epstein. Extremely well connected and influential at the highest levels of British public life, Gallagher is one of those little-seen figures who can so often make or break a campaign.
The Liberal Democrats have endured a torrid time since the 2015 general election, and despite winning over 3.5 million in the popular vote last December the party lost leader Jo Swinson as their seats in Westminster were reduced to 11. Despite this paucity of seats in the Commons, there is clear public support for a moderate party, and it will be Sir Ed Davey’s task to convert that support into results. After assuming the duties of joint-interim leader, Davey was the bookies’ favourite for the permanent job from the day he announced his candidacy, and he won with 63.5 per cent of the vote. His most striking leadership announcement was his anti-Conservative pledge, although he did not endorse a formal electoral agreement with Labour. As a tried and tested figure in politics, Davey can use his platform to promote the Liberal argument.
Mark Spencer holds the potent government position of chief whip. Born to a family of farmers, Spencer qualified at Shuttleworth Agricultural College before joining the family business. Elected to parliament in 2010, Spencer was a surprise pick for the role but was appointed as chief whip by Boris Johnson in July 2019, following a smattering of more minor government positions under Theresa May. An enigmatic, hard-working operator with a ruthless edge and close ties to the backbench, Spencer led the acrimonious September 2019 expulsion of 21 Conservative MPs following their support of the Benn Act. His most recent challenge involved the fallout over the Conservative MP accused of rape. Spencer denies knowledge of the severity of the allegations, and the MP accused has not yet had the whip withdrawn. The Conservatives may have an 80-seat majority, but Spencer will be obsessive in preventing any possible hiccoughs in the party.
Stephan Shakespeare is the co-founder and CEO of YouGov, the UK’s best-known and influential polling company. Born Stephan Kukowski in West Germany (later taking his wife’s name), Shakespeare collaborated with current Conservative MP Nadim Zahawi to set up YouGov in 2000. The company now has over 1,000 employees, annual earnings close to £20m, and subsidiaries on three continents. It has proved especially successful in recent years with inventive early adoption of multilevel regression post-stratification (MRP) modelling in 2016, notably predicting shock results in the US presidential election and the 2017 UK general election, correctly predicting results in 93 per cent of constituencies. The 2019 general election saw rival pollsters utilise MRP, with Survation coming closest to the ultimate result. Shakespeare continues to contribute frequently to national media outlets including The Times, CityAM and ConservativeHome.
doing PR for an ocean preservation not-for-profit. With a first-class degree in Art History and Theatre Studies from Warwick University, Symonds is a well-connected Conservative whose particular interests are conservation, the environment and animal rights, and she has sought to use her influence to impact these areas in particular.
Grant Shapps was a surprise appointment as transport secretary to Boris Johnson’s cabinet in July 2019, only having attended Cabinet previously as co-chair of the Conservative Party between 2010 and 2015. These were formative years for him, however, playing a central role in the Cameron re-election strategy. Despite supporting Remain, Shapps voted against Theresa May’s withdrawal bill on two occasions, only coming around to support it at the third time of asking. He supported Boris Johnson in his leadership bid, and has been kept busy with his transport brief. He was embarrassingly caught out when the government re-introduced travel restrictions from Spain, but is nonetheless an important figure in coordinating overseas travel at the moment. Infrastructure spending could play a big role in the UK’s economic recovery, and Shapps will oversee many of these projects like the recently commenced HS2 construction.
Nick Thomas-Symonds has been in the House of Commons since 2015 and is a key member of Keir Starmer’s team. His wide-ranging career stems off a degree in PPE from Oxford and a particular interest in 20th-century politics. He has written biographies of Labour politicians Clement Atlee and Aneurin Bevan and is currently working on one on Harold Wilson. Thomas-Symonds has lectured in politics at Oxford, as well as practising as a barrister in Cardiff. A member of Labour’s soft left, he served in Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet until he resigned in the aftermath of the EU referendum. After supporting fellow Welshman Owen Smith, he returned to Corbyn’s team as shadow solicitor general, with a security brief later added. He was a big supporter of Starmer’s leadership bid, and is a prominent spokesman for a party under new management.
Ian Blackford is the SNP’s Westminster leader and one of the party’s most important agenda-setters in parliament. He was first elected as the MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber in 2015; a beneficiary of the SNP’s sweeping electoral success that year. Blackford defeated the late former leader of the Liberal Democrats, Charles Kennedy, with a swing of 24.9 per cent. He was re-elected in 2017 and became the leader of the SNP’s Westminster group after Angus Robertson lost his seat. In his role, Blackford has received plenty of press attention, notably for walking out of the House of Commons in 2018 with other SNP MPs in protest at the lack of time to debate the EU withdrawal bill. An insistent advocate for independence, Blackford puts constant pressure on the government in Westminster to match the calls for a referendum from north of the border.
Chief executive of the polling giant Ipsos MORI for over a decade, Ben Page is one of the UK’s most respected market researchers. Having worked as a magician for pocket money as a child, Page once told The Guardian: “Conjuring doesn’t really work with statistics but being a magician gave me the confidence to stand up and talk to large groups of people.” Since joining the pollster (then MORI) in 1987, Page has held board memberships at the RSA, the King’s Fund, the CBI, the Centre for London and more. Government organisations Page has consulted for during this time include Downing Street, the Cabinet Office, the Department for Health and a number of local NHS Trusts. After holding researcher roles at Ipsos MORI for much of his tenure, Page rose to the post of chief executive in 2009. It is unclear whether he still practises magic.
Jonathan Ashworth became a Labour Party staffer in 2001 and a Treasury special adviser in 2004, working alongside Gordon Brown. Following the election of Ed Miliband as Labour leader, Ashworth took the role of head of party relations before his own election in 2011. A rare Labour moderate within Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet, Ashworth gained the coveted shadow health secretary post in 2016. A figure popular with multiple of his party’s factions, Ashworth ranks highly among Labour politicians. He remains shadow health secretary in Keir Starmer’s shadow cabinet, and acts as an important bridge between the old and the new.
David Lammy is MP for Tottenham and shadow justice secretary. A minister in the governments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, Lammy was elected in the 2000 by-election triggered by the death of Bernie Grant. Following in Grant’s footsteps of anti-racist campaigning, Lammy gained national public attention in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire, the Windrush scandal, and the recent Black Lives Matter protests. One of Westminster’s most succinct orators, Lammy earned his place in our Top 100 because of his ability to hold a broad audience, which is further evidenced by his popular presence across social media.
Best known as Boris Johnson’s fiancée and mother of his youngest child, Carrie Symonds was working as the Conservative Party’s head of communications when the two were first seen out together in 2018. She quit soon after the relationship became public, taking up a job doing PR for an ocean preservation not-for-profit. With a first-class degree in Art History and Theatre Studies from Warwick University, SYmonds is a well-connected Conservative whose particular interests are conservation, the environment and animal rights, and she has sought to use her influence to impact these areas in particular.
Gina Miller may have lost the Brexit battle, but we have not seen the last of this indefatigable and effective campaigner. The Guyana-born wealth manager and businesswoman has most recently set her sights on persuading the government to simplify the legal arrangements involved in making a will. Most famous for two supreme court battles, she has also revealed that she once got mistaken for a cleaner at a City networking event.
Matthew Rycroft has been permanent secretary at the Home Office since March 2020. Previously he worked at the Foreign Office and in Downing Street as a foreign policy adviser and private secretary to Tony Blair. In 2005, Rycroft became ambassador to Bosnia & Herzegovina for three years, and was permanent representative of the UK to the UN from 2015 to 2018. Rycroft led the Department for International Development (DfID) from January 2018, moving to the Home Office just before the announcement of DfID’s abolition. He gains his coveted place in our Top 100 because of his enviable Whitehall influence and illustrious CV.
Tom Tugendhat studied at Bristol before completing a master’s in Islamic Studies at Cambridge. He is a former army reservist, utilising his Arabic speaking skills in the Intelligence Corps to deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan. Tugendhat joins the Top 100 because of his prominence as an expert voice on foreign policy affairs, not only from his committee work, but also because of his hawkish approach to China of late, co-founding the China Research Group.
Dave Prentis has been the general secretary of Unison, the UK’s largest trade union, since 2001. The union institutionally supports Labour, but Prentis earns his place in our Top 100 for displaying a pragmatism and political knowhow uncommon among union leaders. Under Prentis’ leadership, Unison endorsed Keir Starmer for Labour leader in the wake of the 2019 general election, and although he may be standing down at the end of this year, his influence will not diminish in the closing months of his leadership. After all, he has ensured Unison remains a union to take seriously at the highest level.
An advocate for Welsh independence, Adam Price is the leader of Plaid Cymru. Price’s rise to the top of his party was predicated on his hard approach to the issue, defeating incumbent leader Leanne Wood in a 2018 leadership contest. In 2010, after nine years in parliament, Price stood down from his role as MP for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr to pursue a master’s. He now sits as the MS for the same region as his former Westminster constituency. Price is a steadfast proponent for Welsh separation from Westminster. He is the UK’s first openly gay male party leader.
Wendy Williams is the Senior Responsible Officer for Criminal Justice and Joint Inspection at HMICFRS. She joined the inspectorate in 2015 from a career in the Crown Prosecution Service. Sajid Javid selected her to lead the major independent review into the Windrush scandal which was published in March 2020, and she is set to continue to speak with authority about lessons for the government in the future.
Caroline Lucas was elected as MP for Brighton Pavilion in 2010. Born in Malvern, Lucas studied at Exeter and worked for Oxfam, aligning herself closely with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament during the 1980s. Lucas became involved with the Green Party upon its foundation in 1990, working as national press officer, co-chair, an MEP and the party’s first (and so far only) parliamentarian. A popular politician with a national profile, Lucas has put the environmental agenda on the map of UK politics more than any other living politician, gaining a place high in our Top 100 for that reason.
Polly Mackenzie is CEO of Demos, Westminster’s most influential centrist think tank. Serving in the role since 2018, Mackenzie has argued particularly for greater transparency in online political advertising. Before joining the think tank, Mackenzie had been a journalist and served as a senior policy adviser for the Liberal Democrats, joining Nick Clegg’s Downing Street operation as his special adviser from 2010 to 2015. After a stint at the Women’s Equality Party, Mackenzie rejoined the frontline of Westminster politics in her current role.
Ben Elliot is a well-connected businessman and philanthropist (he’s also the Duchess of Cornwall’s nephew), who was appointed by Boris Johnson as co-chair of the Conservative Party. A prominent campaigner and fundraiser, Elliot officially chairs the Conservative Party board (co-chair Amanda Milling is deputy chair of the board) and his running of the party means he is regularly in contact with top ministers including Boris Johnson himself.
Robert Jenrick was born in Wolverhampton, studied History at Cambridge and was a Thouron Fellow in Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania before switching to Law and qualifying as a solicitor. In 2018 Theresa May appointed him exchequer secretary to the Treasury. A loyal Johnson ally, Jenrick received a promotion to the cabinet in July 2019. Jenrick has been criticised for approving an east London housing project supported by Conservative donor Richard Desmond against the wishes of civil servants. During the coronavirus pandemic, Jenrick led the government’s shielding programme, which provided food packages to 1.5 million people.
Angela Rayner takes her place in the Top 100 as deputy leader and chair of the Labour party. Raised in poverty in Stockport, Rayner left school at 16 and raised her newborn while studying social care. As a care worker, Rayner joined the union movement, becoming North West convenor for Unison before entering parliament in 2015. Rayner joined Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet as shadow education prominence. Rayner ran successfully for the party’s deputy leadership. She offers a different perspective to leader Keir Starmer and is a consequential voice in senior Labour ranks.
George Pascoe-Watson is UK chair of public relations firm Portland. Before entering PR, Pascoe-Watson worked for The Sun, and played a role in switching the paper’s support from Labour to the Conservatives under David Cameron. In 2010 he joined Portland, the politics-savvy firm established by former Tony Blair adviser Tim Allen. Initially a senior partner, Pascoe-Watson is now UK chair and responsible for advising a number of organisations on corporate and political communications. He remains a commentator on UK politics as well as an important backroom influencer.
Jeremy Hunt is a Conservative backbencher and the former foreign secretary. Upon entering parliament in 2005, Hunt became a keen ally of David Cameron’s, gaining the post of shadow culture secretary in 2007, culture secretary in 2010 and health secretary in 2012, holding the latter position for a record six years. Hunt’s ascent to Westminster’s highest offices was complete when he replaced Boris Johnson as foreign secretary. Hunt finished a distant second to Johnson in the 2019 leadership election and opted to return to the backbenches. He became chair of the Commons’ health and social care committee in January 2020.
Ruth Davidson was integral to the success of the Better Together campaign that saved the Union in 2014. Since then, the soon-to-be peer has solidified her reputation as the Conservative Party’s most effective campaigner north of the border. Currently standing in for Douglas Ross in First Minister’s Questions, Davidson is still the most notable Conservative in Scotland.
A prolific left-wing journalist and former general secretary of the Fabian Society, Sunder Katwala has been the director of British Future, an equality and integration think tank, since 2012. He has always denied any political ambitions, but as a thought leader (his Twitter account @Sundersays has 24.8k followers) he may have a part to play in Keir Starmer’s strategy for the Labour party going forward.
Dame Louise Casey is a prominent homelessness campaigner, a policy area she has devoted herself to during her extensive career in the civil service and indeed after her departure in 2017. Although recently she has stepped down from her role at the head of the government’s rough-sleeping taskforce during the coronavirus pandemic, someone with the authority of Casey is unlikely to lose her influence any time soon.
The Northern Ireland secretary has been in office since February 2020 at a tricky time for the Union. The latest revelation that the government plans to break international law in a “specific and limited” way has caused a political storm in London, Brussels and Washington, and Lewis has a big job in assuaging the fear of all parties involved.
Instrumental in the campaign to save the Union in the 2014 Scottish referendum, Gordon Brown – the former PM in charge during the last financial crisis – advocated forcefully for further devolution. He will likely argue that the balance of change will continue to be towards devolution rather than independence going forward. At 69 years old, this Labour stalwart still has plenty of work to do.
A mover and shaker in the Midlands, Andy Street has been mayor of the West Midlands since 2017, winning against Siôn Simon by a hair’s breadth to become the first Conservative metropolitan mayor outside London. The HS2 advocate and ex-John Lewis boss will face re-election in May 2021. Whether he can beat Labour candidate Liam Byrne will prove critical for the future of HS2 phase two, and test the strength of Labour support in the Midlands.
Chair of one of the most influential Commons select committees and a leading figure on Labour’s soft left, Yvette Cooper was prominent in the Miliband years but couldn’t do enough to win over her party in the 2015 leader election. She has forged her own path since, not sitting in Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet, but leaving her mark in the House of Commons with her home affairs committee work. A leading figure on the soft left, her future looks bright in the Starmer years.
Baroness Evans enters The Mace Top 100 as the most senior cabinet member in the House of Lords where she has sat since 2014, and been leader since 2016. A Cambridge graduate, Evans has worked in the Conservative Research Department, for Policy Exchange, and as director of the free school charity the New Schools Network. She was kept on as leader of the Lords by Boris Johnson, and forms one half of a political power couple with her recently elected MP husband James Wild.
Since 2016 the leader of Westminster’s preeminent authority on the UK constitution and how politics really works, Bronwen Maddox holds the respected post of director of the Institute for Government (IfG). An investment analyst before a long and fruitful career in journalism, Maddox joined the IfG in 2016 and regularly features on national radio and TV as an IfG spokesperson and a trusted commentator on political issues. She earns her place in The Mace Top 100 as a result of her rare impartiality and knowledge of the halls of power.
A staunch Brexiter and supporter of Boris Johnson, Braverman chaired the European Research Group (ERG) from 2017-2018. Briefly a DExEU minister, Braverman made headlines in late 2018 when she resigned alongside Dominic Rabb in protest at Theresa May’s draft withdrawal agreement. Braverman succeeded Geoffrey Cox as attorney general in February 2020 for her first cabinet post, and was intimately involved in the government’s controversial plans to overrule parts of the Withdrawal Act with regard to Northern Ireland.
His party’s third-longest-serving MP, Nick Brown became opposition chief whip in 2016. Having been close to both Gordon Brown and Tony Blair (all three were elected to parliament the same year), Brown became an integral figure to New Labour, holding an array of posts including chief whip under both Blair and Brown. In October 2016, Brown was appointed opposition chief whip by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and was kept on by Keir Starmer. Brown earns his place in The Mace Top 100 as a trusted authority on Labour’s sometimes-fraught backbenches.
Ben Nunn’s predecessor as Labour’s director of communications, ex-Guardian journalist Seumas Milne, was thought to have been chosen more for his political views rather than media nous. Not so Ben Nunn. This ‘nice guy’ PR man studied Political Science at university before starting his career in healthcare PR. His centre-left politics align nicely with his boss Keir Starmer’s, yet it’s his comms experience that will be called on to reshape the voice of Labour in the years to come.
Chief executive of the Resolution Foundation since 2015, Torsten Bell is one of Westminster’s most influential policy wonks. With the think tank now determining the living wage (alongside the Living Wage Foundation), Bell’s organisation is one of Westminster’s most powerful. A former head of policy at the Labour Party during Ed Miliband’s leadership, Bell became known as the party’s brain. Four months after the 2015 general election, Bell moved to the top job at the moderate think tank previously led by David Willetts. Keep an eye on him – Bell reportedly has political ambitions beyond the think tank district.
A two-decade veteran of Labour party politics, Morgan McSweeney founded the unity-focused campaign group Labour Together before taking up his current post as Keir Starmer’s chief of staff in May 2020. A proponent of consensus politics within Labour HQ, he was a key staffer on Starmer’s successful leadership campaign. The 43-year-old has been credited with guiding Starmer’s own cautious and controlled rhetoric more than anyone else in Westminster, gaining his place in The Mace Top 100 in the process.
A trusted and popular pollster, Deborah Mattinson leads the Somerset House-based consultancy BritainThinks. Between media appearances and guest seminars at the LSE, Mattinson conducts more focus groups than anyone else in SW1, arguing specifically that voters feel the Labour Party has lost touch with ordinary people. A longtime party adviser and Gordon Brown’s pollster of choice, Mattinson has more recently kept track of 50 voters’ thoughts and feelings throughout the coronavirus pandemic, publishing extracts of her findings in The Guardian. A Westminster pro who keeps her personal cards close to her chest, Mattinson’s favourite political autobiography is Denis Healey’s.
The former first minister of Scotland retired from frontline politics in 2014, but is still a totemic figure within Scottish politics after leading the SNP for an impressive 20 years. At the 2014 referendum on Scottish independence, Salmond’s well-managed Yes campaign was ultimately unsuccessful, but he has laid a foundation for change in Scotland that continues to be heard in Westminster to this day.
It is still too early to say what Theresa May’s legacy as prime minister will be, but she remains a well respected backbencher who is always worth listening to. At the centre of politics between 2010 and 2019 as home secretary and prime minister, and a popular local MP for Maidenhead, May speaks with authority and gravitas in parliament. Former prime ministers try to avoid frustrating a successor, which makes her powerful remarks on issues like a new national security adviser and Northern Ireland in the context of Brexit all the more powerful and remarkable.
Paul Stephenson is influential in part because of his ability to help determine Downing Street hires. The partner at PR consultancy Hanbury Strategy has worked closely with Dominic Cummings on a number of occasions, most notably leading Vote Leave’s communications strategy in 2016 and advising the Conservatives during the 2019 general election campaign. During the heat of the coronavirus pandemic, Stephenson was drafted as a substitute for Downing Street press officer Lee Cain in the government’s “designated survivor” strategy, again proving his closeness to those in Downing Street.
After 13 years in the Commons, Baroness Smith was made a life peer in 2010, quickly taking up a spokesperson role for her party in the Lords. Smith is currently the shadow leader of the House of Lords, the shadow spokesperson on Northern Ireland issues, and is a shadow spokesperson on the Cabinet Office, each one a significant role in and of itself at the current time. She takes up her place in The Mace Top 100 as the most senior Labour figure in the House of Lords.
Siân Berry succeeded Caroline Lucas as co-leader alongside Jonathan Bartley in September 2018, even if her Top 100 ranking suggests she has not quite overtaken the longstanding Green MP in political influence. The Green Party’s co-leader and 2021 London mayoral candidate recently told The Mace that, rather than any historical British prime minister, the world leaders she most admires are former Australian prime minister Julia Gillard and the New Zealand premier Jacinda Ardern. Compared to the UK’s “privileged, entitled bullies”, she said, Gillard and Ardern are “real inspirations”.
Since entering parliament on his third attempt in 2010, Rees-Mogg has become well-known for his eccentric manner and commitment to the cause of Brexit, gaining his place in The Mace Top 100 as a result of his seniority and distinctive idiosyncrasy. A former chair of the European Research Group, Rees-Mogg was appointed leader of the House of Commons and Lord President of the Council in July 2019. His sister, Annunziata was one of the Brexit Party’s most prominent MEPs before returning to her previous Conservative allegiance in 2020.
When David Evans was elected Labour’s general secretary in May 2020, Keir Starmer heralded the party’s newfound opportunity to “restore trust” among voters. The moderate top Labour official, who replaced key Corbyn ally Jennie Formby, was a councillor in Croydon during the 1980s and first joined party HQ in 1995. Evans is an old-fashioned political operator with no social media presence, but his challenge in uniting a divided party is a particularly current one. Evans defeated the unions-backed Byron Taylor, representing key institutional support for Starmer. This closeness to the party leadership earns Evans his place in our Top 100.
Michael Omari, aka Stormzy, is one of the most acclaimed artists in British music. Omari gained national prominence in 2018 for a notorious freestyle performance at the Brit Awards, in which he lambasted the government for its response to the Grenfell Tower fire. The grime artist gains a place in The Mace Top 100 because of his unmistakable approach to UK politics. Alongside other activism on social justice and racial equality, Omari supports the annual Stormzy Scholarship for black UK students at the University of Cambridge, which funds two black students’ tuition and maintenance costs for four years.
A recognisable Labour politician with experience in government under Gordon Brown, Miliband will be hoping to help Keir Starmer learn from his own experiences as leader. A reticent figure under Jeremy Corbyn, Miliband has returned to the opposition front benches as shadow business secretary and is an outspoken endorser of Starmer
Douglas Ross was appointed leader of the Scottish Conservatives in August. With the SNP running rampant in the polls, the party faces a challenge in next year’s Holyrood’s election. Ross may have supported Boris Johnson in the leadership election of 2019, but he resigned from the government after Johnson refused to remove Dominic Cummings from his team for breaking lockdown. With Johnson’s brand of conservatism being unpopular in Scotland, Ross will be flying up this list if he can improve, or at least maintain, his party’s status in the Scottish elections.
Lord Fowler is a distinguished parliamentarian with over 30 years experience in the lower House who served as a cabinet minister in the administrations of both Thatcher and Major. He joined the House of Lords in 2001 and has been Lord Speaker since 2016. He has been critical of government plans to move the House of Lords to York, as well as of Boris Johnson’s increasing of the size of the Lords with an influx of new peerages. His experience, courtesy and seniority earn him a worthy place in The Mace Top 100.
Following the high-profile murder of her son Stephen Lawrence in 1993 and a lacklustre police investigation, Baroness Doreen Lawrence pressed for a public inquiry; the MacPherson report ultimately concluded that the Metropolitan Police was institutionally racist. Lawrence gains her place in our Top 100 as a consistent campaigner for racial justice and police reform, whose voice has only grown louder among the recent Black Lives Matter protests.
Nicola Sturgeon’s trusty chief of staff for more than five years, Liz Lloyd first joined the SNP as a special adviser in 2004. Since then, her rise within the party has been stratospheric. Lloyd joined Sturgeon’s staff in the most senior post two months after she became first minister and has been a key ally ever since. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh, where she completed her undergraduate degree and a master’s in European Policy, Lloyd has become an indispensable figure within the Scottish government, gaining her place in The Mace Top 100 in the process.
The popular and affable director of the King’s College London policy think tank UK in a Changing Europe, Anand Menon leads a renowned and influential team of researchers whose sole focus is the relationship between the UK and the EU. Now perhaps the UK’s best-known political scientist, the enviable respect Menon commands.
Lisa Nandy ran unsuccessfully but impressively at her party’s 2020 leadership election, gaining a senior post in Keir Starmer’s shadow cabinet as a result. The Wigan MP is a passionate advocate of Labour policies, and is desperate to rebuild the nation’s trust in her party, especially in constituencies which, like hers, leaned Brexit. Although a relative newcomer to frontline Westminster politics, Nandy’s determination to support even controversial causes secures her place in The Mace Top 100.
An East Belfast local who has served as an elected politician in the area for some 20 years, Naomi Long is leader of the Alliance Party and justice minister within the newly re-established Northern Ireland Executive. The centrist Alliance Party elected Long leader in 2016, one year after a unionist pact in her constituency saw her lose her Westminster seat where she had been her party’s first parliamentarian. Long has been an active minister of justice since taking the role in January 2020, progressing new domestic abuse legislation.
Kate Forbes delivered the Scottish budget earlier this year at very short notice after Derek Mackay’s resignation. After this impressive performance, two weeks later Forbes found herself in Mackay’s old post as cabinet secretary for finance. Elected as an MSP in 2016, Forbes is a rising star in the SNP and there is already talk of her as Nicola Sturgeon’s successor down the line. Forbes’ place in our Top 100 is the result of her meteoric rise and limitless ambition.
Rosena Allin-Khan was elected to parliament in 2016 and served as shadow minister for sport under Jeremy Corbyn. 2020 has been her breakthrough year as she impressed in Labour’s deputy leadership election, and Keir Starmer appointed her as shadow minister for mental health. Allin-Khan is surely one to watch for the future.
The chair of Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) and a key member of the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA) union, Andi Fox is a stalwart left-wing voice on the NEC and an internal opponent of Keir Starmer’s. A Corbyn ally, Fox has led NEC attempts to preserve its left-of-centre make-up against Starmer’s moderation efforts, notably signing a letter in June 2020 which alleged party HQ had ignored discriminatory behaviour. Fox courted controversy in April when she retweeted a theory asserting that Boris Johnson’s case of coronavirus was faked. She has since made her Twitter account private.