What do the public think are the real Great Offices of State?

Matthew SmithHead of Data Journalism
September 18, 2017, 5:07 PM UTC

The four Great Offices of State are traditionally the Prime Minister, Chancellor, Foreign and Home Secretaries. But what do the public think are the most important Cabinet positions?

New YouGov research reveals which Cabinet positions the British public consider to be the most important, and the results are bad news for Amber Rudd and particularly Boris Johnson.

Historically, the four Great Offices of State have been considered to be the Prime Minister, Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Foreign Secretary, and the Home Secretary. But if these positions were to be filled by what the public think are the most important, the Prime Minister would be followed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Health Secretary, and the Defence Secretary.

The most important and least important Cabinet positions

The survey shows which Cabinet roles are broadly seen as among the more or less important posts. Of the 19 Cabinet positions we asked about*, Britons see 13 as more important roles and five as less important roles (with opinion evenly split when it comes to the Communities Secretary).

The traditional view that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is the most important Cabinet role after the Prime Minister still holds true with the public. The majority (54%) consider the position to be one of the most important in the Cabinet. Approaching half (47%) think the same about the Health and Defence Secretaries, promoting Jeremy Hunt and Michael Fallon to Great Office of State status.

While the traditional Great Office of Home Secretary falls just outside the top three, with 43% considering Amber Rudd's role to be one of the top Cabinet posts, just 27% believe the same about the position of Foreign Secretary. This puts Boris on the same level as David Gauke over at Work and Pensions, but behind Justine Greening (Education, 36%), David Davis (Brexit, 35%) and David Lidington (Justice, 29%).

Unfortunately for Karen Bradley, the role of Secretary of State Digital, Culture, Media and Sport comes at the bottom of the pile, as only 3% of people think it is one of the most important positions (compared to 24% who say it is one of the least important). The Secretaries of State for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are also clustered near the bottom (although unsurprisingly the Scottish and Welsh roles are much more likely to be seen as important among people in those nations).

Conservatives vs Labour and Remain vs Leave

The results also uncover differences between voters on opposing sides of 2016's referendum and 2017's general election. There are five posts that Tory voters are especially more likely than Labour voters to believe are top roles, with the most notable being the Brexit Secretary, which Conservative supporters are twice as likely to say is one of the most important posts (54% vs 27%). Labour voters, on the other hand, aren't particularly more likely to think any role is a top position.

When it comes to Leave vs Remain voters, those who voted for Brexit are, unsurprisingly, more likely to say the Brexit Secretary is one of the most important positions (47% vs 30%), as well as the Defence Secretary (57% vs 45%). Despite the importance of the role to Britain's post-Brexit future, Leave voters aren't especially more likely to say the International Trade portfolio is one of the top roles (20% vs 23% of Remain voters).

Remain voters, for their part, are most likely to believe the Education and Health Secretaries are top Cabinet positions when compared to Leave voters (at 43% vs 32% and 56% vs 47%, respectively).

Photo: Getty

See the full results here

*YouGov only asked about Secretary of State positions (plus Chancellor of the Exchequer), leaving out less publicly understood roles like Leader of the House of Commons/Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster