There is a story about one of Tony Blair’s reshuffles. Or it may have been one of David Cameron’s. The duplication suggests that the tale is apocryphal but illustrative, and it is about a post-it note. The shuffle in question was intricately worked out, with each would-be Minister’s name written on such notes, all of which were stuck up on a board. One of them fell off. This wasn’t spotted. The MP whose name was in the note was overlooked. Only later was it worked out that he (or she) had missed a governmental promotion – and all for the want of a horse-shoe nail, sorry, post-it note.
I open with this cautionary tale simply to remind readers that all in reshuffles may not be as it appears to be. At one point yesterday, there was confusion about whether Jeremy Hunt was or wasn’t staying as Health Secretary. Stephen Crabb has left the Government but it seems that he might have stayed on. It is a fair bet that at least one member of the Cabinet wasn’t intended for the post he now occupies. None the less, we can learn a lot from what happened about the kind of administration Theresa May will lead.
- Out goes Osborne’s oligarchy… The Chancellor is out – fired by the Prime Minister in person. So is Oliver Letwin, Mr Institutional Memory and Fixer Supreme. So is Greg Hands, the former Chief Secretary. So is Matt Hancock. Osborne’s SpAd empire will be dismembered. Downing Street Policy Unit members have been sent home (in most cases) and told that they must reapply for their jobs (in some cases). Other Osborne allies will be neutralised: Amber Rudd at the Home Office, Elisabeth Truss at Justice. The Crown Prince is dead: long live the Queen!
- ...And in comes May’s machine… Philip Hammond, the Chancellor, is an ally and in effect, I think, Deputy Prime Minister. Damian Green is an old colleague from Oxford days. Two new members of the Cabinet, James Brokenshire at Northern Ireland and Karen Bradley, were Home Office Ministers and important May supporters. Gavin Williamson has effortlessly made the transition from Cameron’s PPS to May’s new Chief Whip. Other than Boris Johnson, I can only find one Cabinet member who backed Andrea Leadsom over May – Leadsom herself. It is a ruthless makeover. Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill are joint Chiefs of Staff. Katie Perrior, who has worked with May before, is Director of Communications. Lizzie Loudon will be Press Secretary. Liz Sanderson will be Head of Features. (What?)
- …Grey hair… Hammond is 60. Michael Fallon is 64. Patrick McLoughlin is 58. David Lidington is 60. The last three would have been vulnerable in the kind of orderly reshufle in which Cameron specialised, in which old stagers were told that they had to make way for young turks. The Prime Minister is demonstrating in spades that she values experience. McLoughlin and Lidington – Party Chairman and Leader of the House respectively – are not so much May men as Party servants, marinated in its ways and culture. The first will be a very popular appointment. To Lidington fell a duty of appearing at the despatch box for urgent questions about Europe when Hammond was unobtainable for one reason or another. David Gauke performed the same function for George Osborne, and he is now Chief Secretary – another Minister respected for being decent, able, and straightforward.
- …State school kids… Justine Greening is the first Tory Education Secretary to have been wholly educated at a comprehensive. Hammond went to a state school. So did McLoughlin. Only about a fifth of the new team were privately educated, compared with almost half under Cameron.
- …Brexiteers… David Davis takes charge of the Brexit negotiations. The appointment is surprising. Davis has been pursuing May over civil liberties for the last six years, and is a spiky outsider by temperament. May must really rate him. Liam Fox may have run for the leadership himself, but he and May are on friendly terms. Priti Patel has spent quite a bit of her six years in the Commons sledging DfID. Now she is to take charge of it. One might almost think that she’s been sent there to wield an axe. Chris Grayling is the new Transport Secretary. He knows a lot about it but, having chaired May’s campaign, might have expected a more senior post. Perhaps the most significant Leave appointment of all is Natalie Evans, the new Leader of the Lords, who steps up to the post after only a little time in the Upper House. At any rate, my sense is that Davis and Fox appointments send a message to the Brexiteers. You wanted it. Now you must deliver it. Which brings us to…
- …Boris… May has clearly decided that he is too colossus-like a figure to keep out, and he will now bestride the narrow world like one. His appointment to a great office of state shows a recognition that since, sooner or later, the ex-Mayor should be given a big job, there is no time like the present.
- …Fewer women than expected… Eight out of 23, by my count, the same proportion as previously.
- ..And change, change, change as Government is reshaped for Brexit and Timothy’s Aston Villa Toryism… May’s thinker-in-chief dislikes green taxes and high energy costs. Pow! DECC is merged with BIS. He wants “an industrial strategy”. Biff! In goes the courtly Greg Clark from CLG to deliver it, with Michael Heseltine doubtless in his wake. Oooof! Slices are torn off the Foreign Office and Defence to go into Fox’s International Trade department. Whack! Universities go to Education. Timothy’s beard has left his face and is running riot through Downing Street. What will happen to Jeremy Heywood, who had a walk-on part in our former columnist’s unjust dismissal from the candidates’ list? Cameron’s new Government post the 2015 election felt like more of the same. This feels like a real changing of the guard.
- …With only four Cabinet members staying in the same post… Fallon, Hunt, and the Scottish and Welsh Secretaries.
Out go Osborne, Theresa Villiers, John Whittingdale, Mark Harper and Nicky Morgan, who said that the Party should have a woman leader, but recommended herself rather than May. The new Prime Minister has a long memory.
Retentive enough, at any rate, to fire Michael Gove too. The message his sacking sends is plain. There will be reform, but on the Lady’s terms. No opposition will be brooked. Slights will be remembered. Revenge will be served ice-cold. Those who fail the Party will be cashiered: their epaulettes stripped from their shoulders, their caps knocked away, their swords ceremonially snapped, their medals torn off and dashed to the ground – before the one-way forced march to Devil’s Island. A bas le Gove! Le Gove a la lanterne!
One would almost imagine that May had a mandate from Party members, a majority of 150, money to spare for spending increases and tax cuts…and no Brexit to manage. Were I the new Chief Whip, I wouldn’t want Osborne and Gove roaming the backbenches at will. A very courageous reshuffle, Prime Minister!