New year, new TM?

  • Matthew Sutton

By Dean Duke, Account Director

Budgets, party conference speeches, and manifesto launches – Theresa May hasn’t had much luck at set-piece events during her tenure as PM.

So when the reshuffle klaxon began sound in Westminster, colleagues and on-lookers alike assumed that it would be carefully planned and executed with precision.

After all, full-scale reshuffles are a bold move to indulge in. They are about a PM choosing to stamp their authority on their party, and calling the country’s attention to their new-look government. Theresa May actually used her first reshuffle, when she became PM in 2016, to good effect.

No such luck yesterday. If there was supposed to be a clear message sent to voters about the Maybot’s reboot, it got lost quite quickly as CCHQ started spreading fake news on Twitter.

Things only got worse as Greg Clark staged a sit-in to save his job, and two incumbents were left in place with their departments’ names changed to reflect responsibilities they already held. May’s challenger for the leadership stays in post as Commons leader.

What of the changes that were made? Number 10 tweeted last night that ten women now attend Cabinet – only five of them are full cabinet members, though.

Laura Kuenssberg broke down the numbers last night – the proportion of privately or Oxbridge educated cabinet members has increased. This has undone some of the work May did in 2016, when she placed an emphasis on breaking up the cosy cabal that surrounded David Cameron and spoke outside Downing Street about breaking down barriers.

If this reshuffle was designed to get the public to take a fresh look at May’s government, it will have failed. May gets a second crack at the whip today, in the reshuffle of junior ministers that is currently underway.

Damian Hinds, Secretary of State for Education

  • Outgoing Employment Minister, and formerly a junior minister at Treasury, Hinds has a long-standing interest in social mobility.
  • Should be able to make a splash by appointing a new Social Mobility Commission, after its members resigned en masse before Christmas.
  • The loss of Justine Greening has removed an LGBT and working class voice from the cabinet table. Her choice to leave government rather than accept a demotion may limit the sympathy she gets from colleagues, though.

Esther McVey, Secretary of State for Work & Pensions

  • A well-liked figure who has prospered in both the Cameron and May administrations.
  • Appointed as deputy chief whip just two months ago, in the mini-reshuffle that occurred after Priti Patel’s resignation. Some colleagues thought it was a missed opportunity, given McVey’s media savvy (she was previously a television presenter).
  • McVey has served in a variety of junior ministerial posts at the department in the 2010-15 parliament.
  • Expect her to serve as a vocal champion of the government’s social mobility agenda. DWP is largely in delivery mode, with little desire to embark on major new initiatives.

David Lidington, Minister for the Cabinet Office

  • A long-serving frontbencher, and very well respected by his Conservative colleagues. Quiet, but seen as reliable and decent.
  • Will have a big role within government – expect him to take over chairing a swathe of Cabinet Committees.
  • Will deputise for TM at PMQs when necessary. Some thought Damian Green to be ‘pale, male and stale’ in that regard. Lidington is better-liked by the modernisers.
  • Expect him to have influence in the next leadership election, given this new role at the nexus of government.

David Gauke, Secretary of State for Justice

  • Served as a junior minister in Treasury for seven years, before being promoted as Work & Pensions Secretary last year.
  • Well-regarded as competent and capable by colleagues.
  • A solicitor by profession, which should reassure the legal community. Comes in to a full in-tray, not least issues to do with prison resourcing and reform.

Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Culture, Media & Sport

  • Young, energetic and well-liked by his colleagues, Hancock is on the modernising wing of the party.
  • An ally of Osborne, Hancock has transitioned well into May’s administration. One to watch for future promotions.
  • Professes to be a fan of grime – can he bring back Cool Britannia?
  • Has previously served as digital minister in the department.

Karen Bradley, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

  • Bradley takes a hospital pass appointment, moving from DCMS.
  • Her training as a whip may help her in dealing with the parties in Northern Ireland. She will have an informal role in liaising with the DUP’s MPs, crucial to the government’s ability to pass legislation.
  • Bradley will spend her time trying to reboot the institutions in Northern Ireland. There has been little progress in talks over the past 12 months, and arguably neither the DUP nor Sinn Fein are really interested in getting Stormont back up-and-running.

Matthew Sutton