Given everything that happened to her in 2017, Theresa May could be starting this year in a far worse position. But that’s not to say that she hasn’t started in in the best position in the circumstances, either. That the Prime Minister and her team recognise this seemed apparent from her decision to pre-record her Andrew Marr interview, rather than appear live and chance being asked about new awkward stories in the Sunday papers. Perhaps booking a pre-recorded interview is a sign that Number 10 has a bit more of a clue than it did in the months after the snap election, but only really in the sense that it has more of a clue about how to better identify the Prime Minister’s political weaknesses.
As it is, those papers are a mixed bag of reshuffle speculation, the Worboys case and the ongoing row about whether Toby Young should have been appointed as an adviser to the new Office for Students.
— BBC News (UK) (@BBCNews) January 7, 2018
The longevity of the row about the Young case, which has even made the splash in the Mail on Sunday, shows how easy it is for a government to forget the saying about looking after the pennies and letting the pounds take care of themselves. Even though the Tories are trying to make themselves look a bit more cuddly and caring, with Michael Gove clearly delighting in making announcements about trees and wild flower meadows which are discombobulating the environmental lobby no end, they have tripped themselves up by not paying attention to the little things.
Young’s role is so small that it scarcely deserves a row: it is a £10,000 advisory post for a handful of days’ work each year. Presumably those making the appointment decision thought this meant those who dislike Young wouldn’t be all that bothered, which shows an odd understanding of the way Westminster works: you don’t even need something to be as big as a molehill for it to become a mountain in news terms. It also shows an odd understanding of Toby Young, who wasn’t exactly tweeting from a secret account when he posted the messages that Tory MPs are now being instructed to describe as ‘distasteful’.
So May ended up having to spend a chunk of her interview explaining that she hadn’t been aware of the tweets before Young got the job. She added that she was ‘not at all impressed by those comments’ and that ‘if he was to continue to use that sort of language and talk in that sort of way, he would no longer be in public office.’ So he’s on what Therese Coffey later described on Pienaar’s Politics as a ‘yellow card’.
This ‘yellow card’ may be as effective a holding line as Number 10 can create, but it was caught on the hop because no one had worked out that even a small appointment can get plenty of attention.