Analysis from day 2 of the cabinet reshuffle
One friend of Andrea Leadsom says the Leader of the House was purposely made to sweat all day yesterday waiting to be reappointed to her role. It doesn’t feel like Mrs May is ready to press the re-set button on that relationship.
And there’s a flick of the tail in the treatment of Jo Johnson today as Mrs May reshuffles the middle and junior ranks of the government. The Universities Minister was very happy in that job but upset No. 10 with his support for Toby Young to the Office for Students. It wasn’t Mr Johnson’s first offence in No. 10’s eyes. He was not a fan of the package of new policies announced by the PM at Conference last October which included raising the income level that triggers student loan repayments from £21000 to £25000 and freezing tuition fees at £9250 a year. Mr Johnson has been sent to the Transport Department and also now has special responsibilities for running the Tories’ London local elections effort this May which could be a poisoned chalice.
Mrs May’s irritation with Justine Greening had been mounting over some time. She and her closest advisers felt that Ms Greening didn’t “get” their agenda on standards and school reform. They loved her deputy, Nick Gibb, but thought Ms Greening emoted about opportunities without coming up with policies to give effect to that. Ms Greening hopes to disprove that, campaigning on social opportunity issues from the backbenches.
Iain Duncan Smith, who is regularly briefed by No. 10, has been explaining that this reshuffle is all about road-testing the next Cabinet, bringing on a new generation of MPs from different backgrounds, some of whom might be in the Cabinet in two years’ time. But some close to Mrs May believe that finishing off Phase 1 Brexit negotiations before the Christmas break gave her more authority than she realised and she should have used this moment to be more radical in shaking up her team.
One other striking feature of the reshuffle is the progress of the FOGs, Friends of Gavin. As an MP before he lost his Croydon seat in last summer’s election, Gavin Barwell (now Theresa May’s Chief of Staff), bonded with a gaggle of fellow Tory MPs. They’d socialise in the Commons and away from Westminster.
His closest parliamentary friend was probably Julian Smith, promoted to Chief Whip in November of last year. Also in the group is Damian Hinds, yesterday promoted to the Cabinet as Education Secretary. Others in the gang include Alok Sharma (today promoted to Damian Hinds’ old job as Employment Minister) and Steven Barclay (today promoted to Minister of State for Health and Social Care). Another member of the group is Mel Stride, already promoted to Paymaster General in the Treasury after last year’s General Election.