Theresa May has just issued her much-anticipated telling off to Cabinet for the recent string of damaging leaks. Happily, the Prime Minister’s spokesman was on hand to (officially) leak details of the discussion on leaks to the press afterwards. May told her ministers that the leaks showed that some were not ‘taking their responsibilities seriously’. Urging them to change their ways, she said it was important that all Cabinet discussions remained private in order to allow an open discussion on policy:
‘There is a need to show strength and unity as a country and that starts around the cabinet table.’
Given that the Prime Minister’s spokesman yesterday told journalists that May was going to rebuke her MPs, the ticking off itself isn’t so surprising. However, what is striking is the language she used to frame her comments. May began by telling ministers that as Prime Minister she has introduced more genuine and collective discussion into Cabinet. But there are a number of Cabinet ministers who would strongly dispute that – at least pre-election.
It’s well documented that May’s former two chiefs-of-staff (Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy) ran such a tight ship that ministers sometimes felt as though they had no input on important policy decisions – let alone direct access to the Prime Minister. While the briefings over the weekend shows that Cabinet is now home to a very free discussion indeed, the problem for May is that this new collegiate approach has not come from a higher place – it’s come out of necessity. She had to change her ways and give Cabinet more input in order to keep the government together.
While May is right to admonish her ministers for focussing more on their leadership hopes than their responsibilities as a government, she, too, has a responsibility to treat them like adults – and that means not pretending the open nature of her Cabinet is a product of her own design.