Liz Truss has made the Cabinet Room her official study – moving out of the so-called “den” chosen by Tony Blair as the prime minister’s office 25 years ago.
The Telegraph understands that, as part of a reorganisation of No 10 Downing Street, the Prime Minister has chosen to work at the Cabinet table, where she has begun meeting aides and ministers, as well as chairing formal Cabinet meetings.
The move harks back to an approach that began with Sir Robert Walpole, the first prime minister, and was last adopted by Sir John Major.
It comes after Ms Truss warned that No 10 had become “a bit too presidential”, and comes amid a slimming-down of the Downing Street operation. During the Conservative leadership campaign, the then foreign secretary promised a return to Cabinet government, stating: “We do need Cabinet ministers to have both the authority and the responsibility for what they’re delivering.”
Sir Anthony Seldon, a historian, said the shake-up followed a tradition of past prime ministers “alighting on different rooms” in which to base their offices.
“It is and always has been two domestic houses knocked together with corridors to join them, so there is no office,” he said.
“Thatcher liked to use the first floor study, now called the Thatcher Room. Lloyd George liked to work from the small Soane Dining Room, but John Major liked to work from the Cabinet Room.”
No 10 staff will now be based in the so-called “den” – the room adjoining the Cabinet Room which Sir Tony, David Cameron, Theresa May and Boris Johnson all used as their study.
The arrangement was interrupted during Gordon Brown’s premiership when the former chancellor opted to use a large room in No 12 Downing Street as a “war room”, in which he sat surrounded by key advisers and officials.
Ms Truss prepared last week’s energy rescue package from the Cabinet Room on Tuesday and Wednesday, with key officials, aides and ministers. The measures were signed off following a late-night meeting around the Cabinet table on Wednesday.
Sir Anthony pointed out that by working from the Cabinet Room, Ms Truss will be more accessible to ministers and officials than her predecessors. Unlike the office used by Mr Johnson, the Cabinet Room has direct access to the corridor frequented by her top team.
Unlike the den, the Cabinet Room, which overlooks the No 10 garden, benefits from large windows and plenty of natural light.
Sir Anthony said of Ms Truss’s move: “She is using the room that exemplified Cabinet government and which isn’t a No 10 enclave. Symbolically it can be seen as a move away from sofa government and the large No 10 machine keeping the Prime Minister away from the Cabinet and the party – and back towards a sense of Cabinet government and the Cabinet doing the work rather than No 10 man-marking everybody and not letting people get on and do the work.”
Roy Jenkins, the former home secretary, noted how, while Winston Churchill was chancellor, he and Stanley Baldwin saw each other frequently because the prime minister worked from the Cabinet Room and “it became the Chancellor’s habit to interrupt his morning procession to work for a few minutes of Cabinet Room conversation with the Prime Minister. It was a habit which helped to avoid any major personal quarrels between them until after the demise of the Government.”