It’s evident that Downing Street began Monday morning with at least one key appointment undecided – as the Chris Grayling fiasco suggests. Responsibility for the wavering must go right to the top.
Number Ten can’t communicate a plan in advance if there is no plan to communicate, which is why speculation about up to six Ministers perhaps being fired span out of control.
For a week, the media was full of claims that Jeremy Hunt would be moved. How come Downing Street didn’t know, before he saw Theresa May on Monday, that he was unwilling to leave Health?
One the one hand, Ministers should go where they’re told to go if they want to serve. On the other, it is impossible not to admire Hunt’s resolve to see through the most politically hazardous of Cabinet posts.
For several days, the media was full of stories about why the Prime Minister didn’t rate Justine Greening. If they had been knocked down, the latter might have been willing to stay on.
Again, Ministers should go where they’re told to go. But one can scarcely blame Greening for taking umbrage at the reports.
Greening will now be free to shore up her support in marginal, Remain-friendly Putney by joining Dominic Grieve and company on the backbenches (as may Damian Green).
Jo Johnson was due a move. But his championing of Toby Young, followed by what looked like a demotion, was a symbol of the culture wars in which the shuffle was caught up.
This is inevitable if one decides that the single element to pre-brief is that the shuffle will “make the Cabinet look more like the country it serves”.
That in itself is fine – indeed essential. But May needs to push a truly more inclusive idea of diversity than she is doing. Or else she will be unwilling to defend Maria Caulfield when the going gets tough.
Damian Hands, a pro-same sex marriage liberal, also finds himself a target, because he is a Catholic who has supported lifting the cap on new faith schools. Read Andrew Gimson’s profile of him today.
On the minus side, any diversity push will be met by endless sniping about the figures. On the plus side, the promotion of more women and ethnic minority members should have some long-term impact.
Appointing nine new and more diverse Party Vice-Chairmen doesn’t cut the publicity mustard. Though a lot of the appointments are good ones. They will need to be properly resourced for the plan to work.
The Daily Mail‘s “Massacre of the middle-aged men” headline today is also ours from early yesterday morning. It looks less timely now if one scours the lower ranks of the Government.
Sixty-two year old Alistair Burt is still there. So are Alan Duncan, Mark Field, Richard Harrington, Phillip Lee, Ben Wallace, George Eustice, Jesse Norman…
At any rate, the Prime Minister needed to make the shuffle about something bigger than diversity – namely, communicating a plan for the whole country.
That could have included giving Housing, the greatest single social reform issue of our time, its own Cabinet post. What we got was a feeble name to change to an existing department.
It could also have included giving more status and weight to Brexit contingency planning. That opportunity has been lost. Let’s hope the missed chance isn’t fatal.
Plus points include: David Lidington at the Cabinet Office, Hinds, Alok Sharma at Employment, Dominic Raab at Housing, Nick Gibb staying on at Education, Harriet Baldwin at the Foreign Office…
…Margot James at Culture, Lucy Frazer at Justice, Rishi Sunak at Housing, Steve Barclay at Health, Oliver Dowden at the Cabinet Office, and Suella Fernandes at DExEU.
That’s a lot of good appointments. The Whips traditionally handle the more junior ones, so Julian Smith must take bouquets for that, though he can’t escape brickbats for the lorry crash higher up.
Talking of the Whips, there’s a lot of change in “the office”, largely because of the post-“Pestminster” appointment of a mass of women. It may take time to find its new feet.
Pressure points include: Esther McVey at Work and Pensions (though with a much safer seat to protect her from the vile trolling that haunted her in the department before)…
…Karen Bradley being thrown into the deep end in Northern Ireland, a bruised Greg Clark, Jo Johnson wrestling with the London local elections.
Don’t fret about square pegs and round holes. It doesn’t really matter that Rory Stewart has no previous prisons experience or Caroline Nokes no immigration engagement. They will learn quickly (or should).
A fond ConHome farewell to Nadhim Zahawi, who becomes the latest in a long line of our columnists to win promotion. He’s one of those new Ministers eschewing a salary.
A cardinal aim of a reshuffle when it ends is to leave the Party Leader no weaker than when it began. This one failed to meet it. The lesson May will doubtless draw is not to have another big one for a long time.
Which means more lost opportunities to give the Government strategic shape. But if Ministers won’t move, and the Prime Minister won’t fire them, that’s where you get to.
For all the Ragnarok headlines and justified slating, remember that the shuffle will have passed most voters by. And it is unlikely that it will provoke a rush of letters to Graham Brady.
But it leaves this site where it was on May herself. We wrote after last June’s election that she needs to convince us that she can lead the Party into the next one. We’re still waiting.
Finally: it’s easier to be a critic than an actor; to criticise than to praise; simple to rush to wrong conclusions – and editors and columnists are a very long way from being infallible. That said…
…This degringolade proves that Downing Street is understaffed and overstretched. Gavin Barwell is trying to do at least three jobs. He needs another deputy to help him to do his own.