UK Politics

Sunday Telegraph Column: Would a Reshuffle Solve Theresa May's Problems? (Answer: Probably Not)

15 Oct 2017 at 15:53

This is the full text of the article which appeared in today’s Sunday Telegraph

Reshuffle fever is gripping Westminster, which is not unusual when a government looks as if it’s in trouble. However, a reshuffle rarely solves anything. There has only been one reshuffle in the last fifteen years which has been heralded as a success and you have to go back to the halcyon days of Tony Blair to find it.

One former cabinet minister told me this week: “A third of the cabinet is brilliant but out of control, a third are plodders and a third are useless and aren’t up to it.” Even if the Prime Minister conducts a wide-ranging shuffling and ejected the most ‘useless’ third of her cabinet, her government will still face the same problems as it does now – divisions over Brexit, no parliamentary majority and a faltering domestic agenda.

Move Boris, sack the chancellor by all means, but chief whip Gavin Williamson knows that it’s not just the ministers who are sacked that nurse grievances, it’s all those who weren’t promoted as well. Like the PM, Williamson hates reshuffles, and that’s why it’s by no means certain there will be one. If there is, the chief whip himself could find that he ends up running a department.

When I interviewed Theresa May in July she was adamant that “no minister is unsackable”, however senior – so adamant that she said it twice. Would she dare sack the chancellor? “He’d do well to find a seconder for his leadership campaign,” says one Tory MP, who believes Philip Hammond has few supporters on the Tory benches.

The problem with sacking Philip Hammond is the timing of the budget. It would have to be done in the next two weeks. Some are saying that it might be time to properly ‘uncork the Gauke’ and promote David Gauke to take over. He spent years as Treasury minister, is liked and is a safe pair of hands on the media. Theresa May needs an ally at the Treasury, not someone to lock horns with. The downside is he’s another Remainer

But what to do about Boris? There is a school of thought developing that the Foreign Secretary wouldn’t be averse to becoming party chairman. He wouldn’t be on the taxpayers’ payroll so would be free to (maybe) return to writing for this newspaper and take up various other sinecures. He could schlepp up and down the country building up potential leadership campaign support and subliminally encourage constituency associations to persuade their MPs to support him when the time comes.

The cabinet ministers thought to be most at risk are Liz Truss, Patrick McLoughlin, Andrea Leadsom and Baroness Evans, the totally anonymous Leader of the House of Lords. Former EU commissioner Jonathan Hill could replace her or could it be that George Young might make yet another comeback to steer the Brexit Bill through the Lords? Serious people for serious times.

Having declined a position in her initial government, Dominic Raab accepted a Minister of State role in June and is heavily tipped for promotion. Former Employment Minister Esther McVey, former chief whip Mark Harper and Immigration minister Brandon Lewis are three other probable promotions.

If Boris Johnson refuses to be party chairman, Brandon Lewis is likely to get the job. McVey at least has the advantage of having been a Brexiteer, unlike so many of the current Ministers of State. And therein lies a huge problem for the Prime Minister. Indeed, it’s a rather depressing experience to flick through the list of ministers of state and conclude that it’s impossible to imagine more than a select few serving at cabinet level.

Any new entrants to the ministerial ranks are likely to come from the 2010 and 2015 intakes. Kwasi Kwarteng is due a promotion, but expect Victoria Atkins and Victoria Prentis from the left of the party to join the government, along with Tom Tugendhat, James Cleverly, Nus Ghani, Johnny Mercer, Lucy Frazer and Rishi Sunak. I’m hearing that serious consideration is being given to bringing Jacob Rees-Mogg into the tent, if only to shut him up.

If Theresa May really wanted to make a statement that youth and diversity are what the party needs, she could give very rapid promotions to two of the 2017 intake – Kemi Badenoch and Bim Afolami, both of whom made superb maiden speeches.

Some still think that the biggest reshuffle of all is still on the cards – shuffling Theresa May out of Number 10. It won’t happen. Why? Because the image of a second tearful female prime minister being bundled out of Number 10 by a series of men in grey suits would be too awful for the Tories to contemplate. Who was it again who claimed they were seen as the ‘nasty party’? That very phrase could be Theresa May’s saviour.

You can read the published version HERE

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