George Osborne was right, Theresa May is “a dead woman walking”.
It was supposed to be a show of strength, but all it demonstrated was Theresa May’s weakness.
So far the Cabinet reshuffle is remarkable only for its chaos and disorder and has yet again, shown how weak the Prime Minister really is. What is the point of a PM that can’t even get her own Ministers to do as they are told? That’s what many Tories must think.
May promised a cabinet reshuffle that will reassert her authority, but it is the opposite that actually happened, as prominent ministers refused to move.
The shambolic reshuffle started with the much criticised Health Minister refusing to give up his job. Jeremy Hunt was offered Greg Clark’s position as Business Secretary, but Hunt refused and kept his minister, with the added responsibility of social care. That meant that a planned move for Clark did not go ahead, and he instead remained at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. So the reshuffle did not go as planned from the beginning, and quickly turned into a nightmare for the PM.
Justine Greening, the figure of the modernising wing of the Conservative Party, spent more than two hours with the PM before refusing to be removed as Education Secretary, prompting her resignation as Minister.
May considered Greening too close to the teaching unions and therefore had to go for many right-wing Tory PMs. If the PM caved in to the bully boys and agreed to remove her from her current role, she also wanted to keep her in government.
The truth is that the PM needed Greening to stay in her government as it would have shown ” a strong and stable leadership” where Ministers do as they are told. But as always with May, it backfired spectacularly as Greening resigned.
This loss is nothing compared with the personal humiliation that Toby Young’s resignation represents for the PM. And this is where things start to get really nasty for May.
On Sunday, May said that Young could stay in his job as universities regulator, even if he was probably the worst person for the job. But in today’s politics, having the backing of the PM doesn’t mean you can keep your job, and Young clearly understood that his appointment was unstable. So he resigned, adding more chaos to May’s leadership as a result.
But here is the issue for the PM. May didn’t want to sack Young, she didn’t want to get rid of a man who posted a tweet ‘joking’ about masturbating over scenes of extreme poverty. Instead, she kept him, defended him live on TV even after being made aware of the worst of his “jokes”.
The truth is that Young’s appointment would be seen not just as mistake by the PM, but as a political statement of her own beliefs. And for a PM who wanted to reassert her authority on both government and party, whilst trying to modernise the Conservatives to attract “younger voters”, this looks really bad and damages even further her own authority.
Many Tory MPs must now think that George Osborne was right — May is “a dead woman walking”.