One week into 2018 and Theresa May had clearly been reading all those ‘New Year! New You!’ magazine features. She wanted to freshen up the image of her Government, promoting talented women and minority ethnic MPs, while rewarding quiet competence.
But so far this isn’t a reshuffle, it’s a re-brand. And a badly botched one at that. Competence seemed far away when the Conservatives themselves wrongly tweeted Chris Grayling had got the party chairman post, for all of 27 seconds. And as for diversity, some of the party vice-chair appointments smacked of tokenism, given none are paid or ministerial posts.
The first big jobs went to men, not women. Apart from James Cleverly, the men were all white. And Justine Greening’s resignation left the impression that the only person who had been fired was a woman.
The promotion of media-savvy Brandon Lewis to Tory chairman, and David Lidington’s move to replace Damian Green, were shrewd placements of round pegs in round holes. Yet shifting David Gauke from DWP felt like an error that undermined the idea that political effectiveness should be rewarded. The re-badging of the ‘Ministry for Housing’ and ‘Department for Health and Social Care’ also risked the charge this is all about spin not substance.
Jeremy Hunt’s refusal to budge from Health proves yet again that May lacks even a PM’s usual powers of patronage, adding his ‘unsackability’ to that of Boris Johnson and Philip Hammond. Changing the Tories’ reputation on the NHS is probably a bigger challenge than getting Brexit right. And it’s far from clear that Hunt will persuade his critics as effectively as he defied the PM today.
T O O M A N Y T W E E T S
Most reshuffles are remembered, if they are remembered at all, for one memorable moment. Theresa May’s January 2017 shake-up is likely to be known for CCHQ’s decision to tweet, and swiftly delete, the appointment of Chris Grayling as party chairman as the job was actually going to Brandon Lewis. In a second error, the official No. 10 tweet naming Lewis to the job misspelled “portfolio”.
Conservative health minister Philip Dunne told the Commons there were “seats available in most hospitals where beds are not” for patients who can not be found a bed in an emergency. Labour have branded the comment an “appalling and ignorant remark”.
And the row over Toby Young’s appointment to the new universities regulator shows no sign of going away. Tory MP Robert Halfon, the influential chair of the Education Select Committee, said Young had “dark and very dangerous” views on disabilities and working class people.