If the Prime Minister had had a clear plan and had executed it properly, yesterday’s reshuffle would not have been the media disaster that it is this morning. It terms of personnel changes, her options were always going to be limited. In November and December, she lost three cabinet in ministers in quick succession, and yesterday a further three (Sir Patrick McLoughlin, James Brokenshire, and Justine Greening) left the Government. Sir Patrick was expected; James Brokenshire was a sad departure and I send my good wishes to him for a speedy recovery; and Justine Greening simply isn’t up to the job of a cabinet minister. I am sure that she is a nice person (I have never met her), but I have never regarded her as competent, nor is she a good media performer.
Removing the Chancellor was always going to be tricky. If she had fired him, he would have created more trouble for her on the backbenches. If she had tried to keep him in the cabinet, she would have had to offer him another senior position or he would have resigned. That would have meant moving Boris or Amber Rudd. But where to? And if Boris had left the Government, he would have been a thorn in May’s side.
It was all too complicated, and for a Prime Minister who already lacks authority, it was never going to happen.
Paul Goodman makes a very good point on ConservativeHome this morning when he asks whether the Prime Minister woke up yesterday morning with a clear plan for her Cabinet at all. I don’t think she did. That’s the problem, and it is a problem that underscores her premiership. It is also a problem that is not going away. I hate to use the analogy of not being able to teach old dogs new tricks, but all the evidence suggests that Theresa May is simply incapable of changing her style of leadership – and I use the word leadership in its loosest sense.
I couldn’t imagine Margaret Thatcher spending hours listening to cabinet colleagues plead their case. She would have asked them to take the new job she was offering them, or they would be out of the door. She, of course, had authority, and an electoral mandate when she was Prime Minister, but she would have also paved the way for the reshuffle. Aides would have taken soundings. An experienced chief whip would have advised. None of this appeared to happen yesterday. What we were left with were a few minor changes that should have been concluded in a morning or just after lunch, taking all day and well into the evening.
We will see what today holds and whether or not she can salvage something when she refreshes her junior ministerial ranks, but yesterday she lost any impetus she had before Christmas. Once again she is weak and wobbly, and yet still manages (because there isn’t an obvious successor) to stagger on.