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Wanted: the meaning of Theresa May’s reshuffle

8 January 2018

7:19 PM

8 January 2018

7:19 PM

On Monday morning, Theresa May’s reshuffle looked as though it was shaping up to be the day of the blunt knives. Some clumsy social media use saw CCHQ falsely crown Chris Grayling as the new Conservative Party Chairman – before it was announced as Brandon Lewis. Since then, things have slowed down considerably.

As the day wore on, ‘the Cabinet reshuffle that wasn’t’ appeared a more fitting description. Despite briefings about ‘dead wood’ in the Cabinet, only a few ministers have changed brief – David Gauke has been appointed the new Justice Secretary and Karen Bradley Northern Ireland Secretary. What’s more, it’s hard to find anyone who has been unceremoniously sacked or demoted against their will. While Justine Greening was pushed out (after over two hours in Downing Street), she could have stayed had she taken a different brief. Several of the ministers No 10 tried to move – Jeremy Hunt and Greg Clark – are thought to have simply refused to do so. Despite being touted as a potential chairman this morning, Grayling is to remain as Transport Secretary. Some mild variation can be found with Jeremy Hunt and Sajid Javid, who have had their titles changed slightly.

The question to ask is: what is the meaning of this reshuffle? No 10 sources claim the meaning will become clear but with no clear policy push or agenda, it seems like the most obvious answer is that the meaning of the reshuffle is to prove that Theresa May could carry out a reshuffle. Ever since the Prime Minister called the snap election, she has been plotting a reshuffle. Back then it was seen as a ‘revenge reshuffle’ that would see the back of Philip Hammond and Sajid Javid. When she lost her majority, that plan – along with most of the 2017 manifesto – went in the bin.

May’s reshuffle was intended to mark a key point in Theresa May’s great comeback. After a successful Budget and achieving ‘sufficient progress’ in the Brexit negotiations, this reshuffle appeared to be intended to re-assert May’s authority over her party. Unfortunately if that is the case, it’s beginning to look as though it will have the opposite effect. With minimal moves, an online gaffe and ministers refusing No 10’s demands, could it be that the Prime Minister isn’t really able to carry out a proper reshuffle after all?

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