The cabinet reshuffle should have been an opportunity for Theresa May to reboot her premiership. Instead, it's been a disaster and the mishandling if several moves could have long term implications, says Max Liu.
"As well as raising more questions about May's competence, the reshuffle shambles (reshambles?) highlights May's weakness. It's reported that May wanted to move Hunt from health but he simply refused."
Theresa May is facing criticism from Conservative MPs after her cabinet reshuffle left controversial ministers Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt in their jobs while forcing Justine Greening to quit the government. One Tory MP called it "the worst reshuffle I have ever witnessed in any party ever." May is [1.52] to leave Downing Street before Brexit is completed and the chaotic events of the past 48 hours have increased the chances of her premiership ending sooner rather than later.
The reshuffle began with a classic gaffe, as the Tory party's social media team tweeted that Chris Grayling had been appointed party chairman. That tweet was deleted quickly, as Brandon Lewis has actually been appointed party chairman. So much for the Tories getting to grips with social media in 2018.
Arguably, the reshuffle was overshadowed by the news that Toby Young, the journalist and free schools founder, has resigned from the Office of Students, after his appointment last week caused outcry. Young was backed by May on Sunday and by universities minister Jo Johnson, aka Boris's little brother, only 24 hours ago. The younger Johnson needn't worry, though, as he's been reshuffled to the transport department.
If these moves are difficult to follow then worry not as all you really need to understand is that May has scored another inexplicable own goal. It leaves colleagues baffled and, in some cases, furious, in part because May had been planning a reshuffle since September - enough time, you would have thought, for her to work out what she wanted to do.
Tory MP: "worst reshuffle I have ever witnessed in any party ever. None of it makes sense. It's sabotage. I think someone's trying to destroy her on the inside. I can't think of a less dramatic reason!"— Isabel Hardman (@IsabelHardman) January 8, 2018
May alienates former-allies while failing to stand up to powerful enemies
As well as raising more questions about May's competence, the reshuffle shambles (reshambles?) highlights May's weakness. It's reported that May wanted to move Hunt from health but he simply refused. So Hunt, like the elder Johnson and Brexit Secretary David Davis, who have made significant errors in the past six months, stay on while Greening, who has quietly got on with her job, is gone.
Several MPs have stated their support for Greening, including Ruth Davidson who's [16.5] in the next Conservative leader market. Heidi Allen also regards Greening as a significant loss to the cabinet. Allen, Davidson and Greening have all previously supported May, so it's odd to see the PM alienating them at the same time as refusing to remove Johnson and Davis, who have both undermined her authority.
Sorry to see @JustineGreening leave government - she brought her non-nonsense, northern accountant's eye to every brief and is a real role model for LGBT+ Conservatives.— Ruth Davidson (@RuthDavidsonMSP) January 8, 2018
But perhaps that is exactly why Davis, Hunt, Johnson remain in post - because they aren't afraid of May whereas she fears that their removal would cause ructions in the party. Meanwhile, May's former-colleague and Evening Standard editor George Osborne has been quick to twist the knife with damning editorials and tweets.
Will May leave in 2018?
Yesterday, an article on this site asked if the reshuffle would shore up the May government. The opposite has happened - May has been weakened and, once again, she looks like a Prime Minister who doesn't know what she's doing.
Self-destruction has been a feature of the Conservative Party in recent years. David Cameron precipitated his own downfall by calling the Brexit referendum in 2016. Last year, May squandered her majority at an election she called because she wanted to increase her majority. She has started 2018 by overseeing a shambolic reshuffle that could hasten her departure. The Theresa May exit date market is wide open but April to June 2018 at [7.4] looks appealing.