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Will Theresa May replace her Willie?

21 December 2017

11:56 AM

21 December 2017

11:56 AM

The news of Damian Green’s ‘resignation’ (some would call it a polite sacking) as First Secretary of State has broadly speaking been accepted as necessary by Conservative MPs. David Davis has valiantly reneged on his pledge to resign from Cabinet in protest if Green was shown the door. Meanwhile, the at times outspoken Andrew Bridgen has busied himself on the airwaves this morning waxing lyrical about the government. What helps May is that Green broke the ministerial code because he made misleading statements – meaning she hasn’t had to make the decision based on a judgment on his alleged actions.

The next question: will May replace Green? It’s a matter up for discussion, with a No 10 source telling reporters travelling with May to Poland today that Green won’t necessarily be replaced. However, this would be a mistake. The Prime Minister brought in Green after the disastrous snap election to try and show her party that she was ready to change and be more open with her colleagues going forward. She decided that she needed someone to liaise with the different departments, wings of her party and the 10 Democratic Unionist Party MPs. Up until then, she had had no-one in that role and her decision to appoint one of her closest allies to the role shows just how important she viewed the job to be. As Green himself put it, he was Theresa May’s ‘Willie’ – a reference to Thatcher’s long-serving deputy Willie Whitelaw.

Green’s job – which includes sitting on 9 Cabinet sub-committees – is seen as vital for the smooth-running of government (even if it doesn’t always turn out that way). As one Cabinet Minister tells Coffee House: ‘it’s a very important job but a very tedious one. It takes a specific type of person to be able to do it – it’s not glamorous.’ It follows that May would need to find both someone she trusts and someone good with detail if she is to successfully replace Green. Names being mooted so far include Jeremy Hunt, William Hague and Amber Rudd.

Whether they are right for the job remains to be seen – but the one thing that can be agreed on is that, as Thatcher said, every prime minister needs a Willie.

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