Welcome to the New Year. Nothing has changed! Or at least this is what it felt like to studied watchers during last week’s Conservative reshuffle. A heavily trailed reshuffle designed to reassert the authority of the Prime Minister was instead characterised by mismanagement and mishap.
Those in the top positions remained unchanged; some through choice and some through stubbornness. The vast majority of changes occurred at junior level, although some moves were made at Cabinet level.
The reshuffle began with a successful, if somewhat short reign as Conservative Party chairman for Chris Grayling (27 seconds). This announcement was quickly retracted with intended recipient Brandon Lewis quickly confirmed. Not the ideal start! Mr Lewis’ undaunting job will be to revive a flagging membership and compete with Labour’s growing online social media operation. As Atlas Associate and former Digital Director for the CCHQ wrote this week, no small task.
Further changes at CCHQ saw nine Tory MPs become Vice-Chairman of the party and a tenth, James Cleverly, appointed Deputy Chairman. After a lacklustre General Election campaign, the addition of new faces and new ideas was widely seen as a necessity. As we all know, MPs are hardly busy people who will have plenty of time for these important tasks beyond their day jobs – so future campaigns may, or may not, rise to the challenge.
Leading Osborne acolyte Matt Hancock moved back into Cabinet as DCMS Secretary. He takes over from Karen Bradley who was given the Northern Ireland brief. This followed James Brokenshire resignation for medical reasons. We wish Mr Brokenshire well as he fights his health concerns.
The controversial Esther McVey takes on the problematic Work and Pensions position. Her role will be nice and straightforward; namely to sort out Universal Credit. This was not a task Justine Greening felt obliged to take on. She decided to leave Cabinet rather than move from Education to DWP. Watch out for Greening, given her fragile majority in a heavily Remain London seat becoming another Brexit rebel in the coming weeks and months. She’s already been spotted cosying up to Dominic Grieve, leader of previous Brexit rebellions.
David Gauke, previously holder of the DWP post, has moved to the Ministry of Justice. Gauke, a lawyer by trade (not always a given in this post!) has faced an interesting start. The decision to free convicted sex offender John Worboys on parole has given him a headache he would have liked to avoid. Within a few short weeks. Mr Gauke’s reputation in the role could already be made or broken.
Rising stars such as Alok Sharma, Caroline Dinenage, Margot James, Sam Gyimah, Kemi Badenoch and Ben Bradley all received promotions at the junior level. Look out for these names as murmurings of the next Conservative leadership race continue to bubble away at Westminster.
Damian Hinds, the new Education Secretary is another who has been talked about in terms of leadership. Although gaining the support of Michael Gove isn’t always beneficial to your future job prospects. Just ask Boris!
So what does this reshuffle tell us about this Prime Minister and Government? We know Theresa May is a politician often reluctant to change for changes sake. This is not necessarily a bad thing. However, this reshuffle was a failure in expectation management. The problem was not the failure to move ministers, but the pre-briefings that they would be. Her inability to deliver then makes the Prime Minister seem weak.
The reshuffle has not changed the political climate. This is a Prime Minister reliant on the DUP and hopeful her backbenchers don’t pull the plug. She is hamstrung by parliamentary arithmetic and political reality. The reshuffle will be barely noticed by many and quickly forgotten by the rest of us as focus inevitably returns to Brexit. It could, however reinforce the idea of a Government that outside of Brexit has no clear vision.
Nothing has changed!