Theresa May's cabinet reshuffle: appearing to take back control
By Daniel J. McLaughlin
Theresa May offers a contradiction in terms of political power. The prime minister promised a strong and stable leadership in the snap general election she called, but the hung parliament outcome made her appear weak and wobbly, instead. As the Tory leader defied predictions that her premiership would collapse in the aftermath, Mrs May is now weak yet stable.
Without a parliamentary majority, she faces an emboldened opposition and smiling assassins within her own party. The prime minister does not have control, and will struggle to take it back, so she is opting for the next best thing - appearing to take back control.
To achieve this, Mrs May is planning a cabinet reshuffle. There have been a change of faces in the cabinet over the last few months, but none of them have really been at the behest of Mrs May. Sir Michael Fallon, Priti Patel and Damian Green have all departed for one scandal or another - and while they have resigned, or have been forced to resign, their exits have been largely out of Mrs May's control.
The predicted January reshuffle will offer her a chance to implement her own changes, and refresh a government that is both divided and bogged down in controversy. Her hand may be forced to change things around a bit, especially with the departure of her de facto deputy Mr Green, but the moves will be her call. For the first time in a long time, Mrs May will be handling events, rather than reacting to them.
According to the Independent, the prime minister's advisors have been "urging her to shake up her top team and bring some fresh blood into the Government’s junior and middle ranks". Before Mr Green left his role as the first secretary of state, it was suggested that she would conduct the reshuffle after the May local elections - where the Tories are expected to receive a bloody nose - but a January reshuffle now looks inevitable.
The reshuffle could be a blood-letting experience. It appears to be more of a cull, rather than regeneration, with Mrs May reportedly set to sack up to a quarter of her cabinet within weeks. The Mirror reports that five out of her 21 cabinet ministers have been tipped for the chop, with others potentially being moved to different roles. Education Secretary Justine Greening, Tory chairman Patrick McLoughlin, Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom and transport secretary Chris Grayling could lose their jobs. They are all named by both the Sun on Sunday and the Sunday Times with the latter adding business secretary Greg Clark to the list.
The Economist argues that Mrs May should use the problem created by Mr Green's exit as an opportunity. Boris Johnson, whom they argue has made a "hash" of his job as foreign secretary, should be moved to a role where "his ebullient personality might be an asset rather than a liability".
Mrs May could also use the opportunity to address the gender balance issue in her cabinet. She is reportedly considering promotions for seven female ministers by bringing in five new members, Anne Milton, Claire Perry, Sarah Newton, Margot James and Harriett Baldwin, and elevating Amber Rudd, the home secretary, and Karen Bradley, the culture secretary.
The weak yet stable prime minister wants to reassert control, though it continues to evade her. Theresa May will be hoping to achieve the next best thing if she goes ahead with the reshuffle - appearing to take back control. It's better than nothing for a premiership that appears doomed, but still clings on for life.