Theresa May's cabinet reshuffle fails to live up to its hype at the expense of the prime minister
By Daniel J. McLaughlin
Britons tend to err on the side of caution when it comes to political speculation. If we were to believe the gossip coming out of Westminster, Brexit would have never happened, Theresa May would be a strong and stable leader, and Jeremy Corbyn would be a name only known to his Islington constituents and a few anti-war protesters.
And yet, with a cabinet reshuffle being mooted for months, we have fallen, once again, for the hype - and once again, we were left slightly disappointed by the reality.
The weak yet stable prime minister had finished the year in a slightly stronger position. Britain and the EU had finally agreed to move on to Phase Two in the Brexit negotiations. Her year had been marred by the disastrous general election, resulting in a minority government and the undermining of her leadership. A small victory can be accentuated when your premiership is blighted with misfortune; similarly, a small error or defeat can be blown out of proportion under a calamitous government.
Mrs May was expected to reassert the control that had been slipping from her grasp with a cabinet reshuffle. Rather than using the opportunity to her advantage, she lost control of the message and her ministers as the reshuffle personified her premiership: crumbling after so much promise.
The prime minister needed to achieve three aims through the cabinet reshuffle: reassert authority, inject new blood, and revive the Tory war machine.
It was more of a junior ministerial reshuffle than the cabinet. Ministers in the key positions of government all stayed put - there were no moves for Chancellor Philip Hammond, foreign secretary Boris Johnson, home secretary Amber Rudd and Brexit secretary David Davis. When she decided to make a change in the cabinet, it was largely out of her control.
Northern Ireland secretary James Brokenshire had to step down out of health reasons, replaced by former culture secretary Karen Bradley. Justine Greening refused to move from the Department of Education to Work and Pensions, and following a long meeting in Downing Street, she resigned from government. Health secretary Jeremy Hunt was due to move to business, but he dug in his heels and added social care to his brief - Greg Clark, tipped for the axe, stayed as business secretary.
Sky News' political editor Faisal Islam argues that there were two problems with the reshuffle: it was overhyped, and the prime minister failed to assert her authority. He writes: "In allowing Jeremy Hunt, Greg Clark, Justine Greening and Damian Hinds (the new education secretary) to hang around Downing Street for hours in total - with at least two of them pushing back against the PM's decision-making - it made for a rather public display of a lack of authority."
There are only five new faces around the Cabinet table, with most of the shifts happening in junior ministerial positions. She also bolstered the Tory war machine, trying to mend the election-fighting team at CCHQ. While successful in this endeavour, and CCHQ does help her get the job in the first place, but the government allows her to perform - or fall flat on her face - on a day-to-day basis.
Conservative Party membership is a concern for the Tory leader, however. The party is believed to have 70,000 members - a signficant drop from 250,000 in 2005. Labour, on the other hand, has seen a surge in membership, boasting around 570,000. New research by the Queen Mary University reveals that Labour organised a minimum of 1.4 million "campaign activities" through its membership in the election - the Tories achieved only a quarter of that with 262,150 activities from its members.
The injection of new blood happened in the junior ranks. Her new cabinet only contains one ethnic minority minister and one who is openly LGBT, but there was a greater proportion of fresh talent from diverse backgrounds in other ministerial jobs. MPs with Pakistani, Mauritian and Iraqi heritage were given ministerial jobs for the first time in their careers, Sky News reports, and of the 13 new politicians on the government payroll, eight were women and four were BAME.
The cabinet reshuffle failed to live up to its hype, and Theresa May has come out of it with her authority undermined once again. For the prime minister, if it wasn't for bad luck, she wouldn't have any luck at all.