By Daniel J. McLaughlin
We are down the rabbit hole and have found ourselves in Wonderland with British politics. Up is down, and down is up. A win is a loss, and a defeat is a victory.
Theresa May's Conservatives did win the disastrous general election, but they were the losers. The Labour Party suffered their third successive election defeat, but Jeremy Corbyn is now painted as a prime minister-in-waiting.
Mrs May was supposed to be the strong and stable leader, but she offered a contradiction in this upside-down world: she is weak yet stable. The Mad Hatter, it seems, cannot organise the famous tea party, but they are still sitting at the head of the table.
When Mrs May was flapping, "Nothing has changed! Nothing has changed!", following her dementia tax U-turn, the truth was that everything had altered.
In her recent attempt to reassert control with a cabinet reshuffle, the prime minster is effectively saying that, "Everything has changed! Everything has changed!". Without commanding the respect of her party and her ministers, the contrary has happened.
There were three main aims for Mrs May's highly-anticipated reshuffle, according to the Guardian: inject some new blood into the government, showcasing a fresh generation of Tory talent; shake up the Tory election war machine that misfired so badly last year; and "show her determination to get to grips with domestic challenges that have been all but overshadowed by Brexit for the past 12 months".
The party election-fighting machinery at CCHQ certainly needs that shake-up as central office caused the first error of the day. Chris Grayling had the shortest tenure as Conservative Party chairman, if you are to believe their official Twitter account. The premature announcement was posted and deleted within 30 seconds. Brandon Lewis was instead chosen to replace Sir Patrick McLoughlin in the role - as well as becoming the Minister without Portfolio. James Cleverly was selected as a deputy.
By adding a series of junior ministers into unpaid "vice chair" roles, she gave CCHQ a long overdue paint job. The same cannot be said for No.10. Chancellor Philip Hammond, Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, Amber Rudd, the home secretary, and David Davis, the Brexit secretary, all remained in their roles. As the New Statesman's George Eaton notes: "Movements at No.10 were painfully suggestive of deckchairs being shuffled."
The cabinet is supposed to made up of Mrs May's ministers - instead, she is their prime minister. Jeremy Hunt was intended to move from the Department of Health to become the new business secretary, at the expense of Greg Clark. However, the health secretary put up a fight in his long meeting in Downing Street, believed to last more than an hour. He left No.10 with a promotion, rather than a step sideways, adding "social care" to his brief. Mr Clark remained in the role after being tipped for the axe. Sajid Javid was also facing the chop, but he has seen his job expanded to include housing in his local government and communities brief. The Guardian's John Crace remarks that "rather than reshuffling her personnel, she [Mrs May] chose to reshuffle the names of the departments instead".
The prime minister was faced with immovable objects throughout the day, and Justine Greening's stubbornness resulted in her resignation from the government. The former education secretary turned down a move to the Department for Work and Pensions. The state-schooled Putney MP was replaced with grammar school educated Damian Hinds, following "a blizzard of negative briefing" about her closeness to the teaching unions and outspokenness in cabinet.
Following Damien Green's resignation last month, former justice secretary David Lidington was appointed as the minister for the Cabinet Office. He did not, however, take over Mr Green's previous role as the first secretary of state - it is believed that the prime minister will not appoint anyone to the position of her de facto deputy. Mr Lidington also becomes the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, replacing Sir Patrick. Former work and pensions secretary David Gauke takes on Mr Lidington's previous job as justice secretary.
James Brokenshire has stepped down as Northern Ireland secretary for health reasons. It is understood he requires surgery for a lung condition, the BBC reports. He is replaced by Karen Bradley, who has relinquished her role as culture secretary. There was a promotion for Matt Hancock, who moved up from his job as digital minister to replace Mrs Bradley.
Jo Johnson has lost his universities brief, and he was appointed transport minister and minister for London - he will be replaced by Sam Gyimah. Mark Garnier has been sacked as international trade minister. Philip Dunne, a health minister, Robert Goodwill, an education minister, and John Hayes, a transport minister, are also leaving the government.
The cabinet reshuffle has served as a fitting metaphor for Theresa May's premiership. The prime minister is attempting to reassert control, but it is visibly slipping once again from her grasp. The political contradiction continues in the government with the weak yet stable leader promising change, but very little has actually happened. The reform and refreshment she wanted has crumbled away, like the leadership she once held.