8 Jan 2018

Reshuffle: night of the long plastic forks

Well it wasn’t really worth the drum roll build-up. As reshuffles go this has not been transformatory. There’s more still to come tomorrow with middle and junior ranks outside the Cabinet, but Theresa may has not felt able to shift big irritants from senior jobs and, as I write,  has yet to announce any Cabinet sackings.

Sir Patrick McLoughlin, no longer the Party Chairman, had made no secret of the fact that he wanted “out” and his resignation is, unusually, just that and not a sacking in disguise. People are patting him on the back saying “well done” as he walks around Westminster, all too aware that he was hoping to be relieved of his responsibilities earlier. The Northern Ireland Secretary is leaving for health reasons which No. 10 knew about before Christmas. Karen Bradley moves from Culture to Northern Ireland at a time of great challenge. She could be in charge of Direct Rule in a matter of weeks and one DUP source said the party would’ve preferred someone with more experience of Northern Ireland at a time like this.

So as the hours tick on, the Prime Minister has not been able to change much. Jeremy Hunt made the argument to stay as Health Secretary and won that argument – he also got Social Care added to his Department. That will be a popular change amongst many who think the two areas must be more joined up but after the debacle of the Tory election manifesto it’ll look to some like a Whitehall reorganisation in search of a policy. Greg Clarke managed to stay at the Business Department despite hostility from some in the Prime Minister’s circle and indications before today that he was going to be moved.

Jeremy Hunt

Sajid Javid’s Department for Communities and Local Government is now the Ministry for Housing and Local Government. The government says that reflects the importance the Prime Minister gives housing.

Damian Green was valued by quite a few ministers and senior civil servants for taking decisions. His successor, David Lidington, is better known for his politeness and civility, and will have to prove his strength at decision-making. Mr Lidington has not been given all the grand honorifics that Mr Green had but he’ll deputise at PMQs when the PM is away and will chair all the same Brexit Cabinet Committees that Damian Green chaired. If, as seemed possible in recent weeks, that job had gone to Jeremy Hunt, something of a born again Brexiteer, the tone of the meetings and the balance might’ve been different.

But it seems like quite a lot of power has migrated to Vote Leave leaders Michael Gove and Boris Johnson in recent months. They decree what Brexit supporters will tolerate as the negotiations progress. Some think it was fear of their reaction that meant the Prime Minister didn’t reverse the decision to appoint Toby Young as a director of the Office for Students. His tweets and other public comments would be the sort of stuff that people close to Theresa May say she would find repugnant. Her reflex would be to make that clear by removing him from the post, allies say. But what hope a really drastic reshuffle from a Prime Minister who can’t act as she pleases over a board member of a university regulator? The small scale of this reshuffle reveals the Prime Minister’s weakened political position … but, she’s still there.


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