Yesterday’s reshuffle had been hyped up as a key moment in Theresa May’s premiership – the moment that she would reassert her authority after a bruising in last year’s general election. However, what resulted was a shambolic mess that only further highlights the Prime Minister’s weakness and inability to make the difficult choices needed of a leader facing difficult political challenges.
Firstly, May once again kept in post ministers who have had numerous failures since taking their jobs in the Cabinet. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has gone off-piste on party lines (especially Brexit), jeopardised the safety of a British national being held in Iran, and made Britain into an even greater laughing stock on the world stage. Meanwhile, David Davis has seemingly been unable to break deadlock in Brussels over Brexit – with the biggest step in negotiations only coming after a desperate intervention from the Prime Minister. Any competent leader would have sacked these men long ago, but May lacks the political capital to do so and fears the potential consequences.
Secondly, when she has attempted to move ministers, May has been unable to do so. Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, whose leadership over one of the worst NHS crises makes him worthy of demotion, not only talked himself out of a change of job but was in fact able to extend his responsibility to social care. The same was true with Greg Clark, who also refused to budge from his role as Business Secretary. What does the inability to move members of their cabinet say about the Prime Minister’s leadership?
And then there’s Justine Greening. After finally starting to repair (as much as any Tory can) some of the relationships with teachers damaged under Gove, May has pushed her out. A sensible female minister, who rightly opposed May’s controversial enthusiasm for grammar schools, is the sort of person who perhaps should have seen promotion, but the Prime Minister’s frustrating inability to shape her own Cabinet, whilst pandering to the right of her party, makes that impossible.
May has started 2018 on a bad note. She is an weak leader of a party splintered over Brexit, lacking a majority in parliament and held hostage by right-wing Brexiteers in its ageing base, whilst the young flock to the opposition. Perhaps May’s New Year’s Resolution should be to admit she’s not up to the job and, for the sake of the country, resign.