James Cleverly becomes foreign secretary after nearly two years as a junior minister in the department and a few weeks as education secretary, with the challenge of working for a new prime minister who wants to drive foreign policy personally.
The 53-year-old was an early backer of Liz Truss, on board ahead of the first ballot, and during the campaign was happy to criticise her defeated rival, Rishi Sunak, for being slow to respond to concerns about the influence of China.
At one point the former chancellor proposed a ban on China’s 30 Confucius Institutes in Britain. Although Truss has not made a similar commitment, Cleverly argued that Truss had been focused on Beijing “for quite some time” and that “we do need to look at China’s influence, not just on the world stage but here in the UK”.
Other senior Conservatives who had hoped to become foreign secretary suggest, in private, that Cleverly’s appointment “is designed so that Liz can remain foreign secretary while based in No 10”, arguing that the new prime minister wants to reserve decision-making for herself.
Nevertheless, the requirement to spend day and weeks on the road requires a certain amount of trust from the occupant of Downing Street. Cleverly spent nearly a year directly working for the new prime minister, and his Blackheath home in south-east London is a mile down the road from where Truss lived in Greenwich.
It is a part of London with which the politician has been associated all his life. Cleverly, whose mother came to the UK from Sierra Leone, and whose father’s family is from Wiltshire, was brought up in a one-bedroom flat in nearby Hither Green, as an only child, partly because his parents could not afford to bring up another.