Priti Patel could well follow Michael Fallon in making a departure from the Cabinet today. If she does leave, she’ll be the second minister to go in the space of only a week. So, is this bad luck on the part of the government? Not so, says the FT. The paper says this is a ‘symptom of a deeper malaise’ and ‘two domestic incidents have highlighted the sense of drift’ at the heart of the government. Boris Johnson’s blunder in suggesting an imprisoned British-Iranian citizen was ‘teaching people journalism’ is typical of his ‘blasé attitude’. The FT goes further though, saying that Boris ‘may be the least distinguished figure to occupy the Foreign Office since the second world war’. And what about Patel? The International Development Secretary ‘strayed well beyond her brief’ – yet so far has earned herself little more than a ‘private reprimand’. In normal times, concludes the FT, both their jobs would be ‘under threat’; but May ‘lacks the authority’ to sack the duo. ‘The British government’s flailing at home is translating into weakness abroad’ – and we should all be concerned.
The Guardian is equally damning in its assessment of Priti Patel and Boris Johnson, describing the pair as ‘incompetent, insubordinate and still in office’. ‘In this government’, it seems, ‘it is everyone for themselves’. Boris compounded his fault by finding ‘ways of saying everything except sorry’. It seems ‘Mr Johnson is not a man for details and not a man for apologies, either’. But in many ways ‘Patel’s actions are…even more serious’, says the Guardian. ‘The Middle East is the most…politically fractured place on the globe’ – and a government minister conducting ‘secret diplomacy’ in the region is ‘nothing less than mutinous’. Yet, once again, ‘Mrs May turned the other cheek’. But why? Priti Patel and Boris Johnson both have one thing in common: they are both ‘Brexiters’. In another Tory cabinet, neither would ‘deserve a place’.
Since Theresa May blew her party’s majority in June’s snap election, it is clear that May ‘is too weak to use the patronage that is supposed to come with her job,’ says the Times. In the wake of her decision to axe Michael Fallon, for example, she dodged the prospect of a ‘full reshuffle’. ‘Yet one reason Mrs May’s authority appears so shrivelled is her unwillingness to test it,’ says the paper. It’s true that since her determined performance on stage during her disastrous party conference address she has ‘inspired grudging affection’. ‘But she inspires no fear’. This needs to change, says the Times, which points out that although May is a weakened Prime Minister, her ‘office retains a residual clout as long as the incumbent is willing to use it’. If she chooses not to axe those ministers who defy her so openly, however, one thing is inevitable: she ‘will be ousted sooner rather than later’.