The thrust of Amber Rudd’s argument in today’s Sunday Times about women and government is right. For example, Therese Coffey has been Work and Pensions Secretary for a day over five months. This is not long enough for Boris Johnson to assess whether or not she is capable of running a department.
Yet Coffey is rumoured to be for the chop in this week’s reshuffle. So is almost every other female Cabinet Minister. Which has stirred Rudd into writing in protest.
Then again, linger on the fourth word in the first sentence of that last paragraph. Boris Johnson is always secretive and often indecisive – or, rather, he will chew over a decision, as sailors once chewed tobacco, before intuiting it one way or the other.
For this reason, almost everything you are reading about the coming shuffle is rumour – no more, no less. For example, the Sunday Times says that Geoffrey Cox is “understood to be preparing for a return to the bar”…where his earnings as a a barrister outstripped those of all other MPs”. But the Sunday Telegraph reports that he is “desperate to hang on to his job”.
The Prime Minister will make his decisions today at Chequers and maybe tomorrow or even later. No-one will be “in the room” – other than Carrie Symonds, and maybe not even her. We will write more about all this in due course, but go back in the meantime to Coffey, and Rudd’s article.
If Rudd wants to sound off, fine. But she must know that she is just about the last person to influence Boris Johnson as he ponders his plans. In 2018, she resigned as Home Secretary after misleading the Home and Pensions Select Committee on deportation targets.
True, the error was unintentional. And she may not have been well served by her civil servants. But ultimately Ministers are responsible for their departments, and are paid to be on top of their brief.
Johnson then brought her back as Work and Pensions Secretary, roughly two and a half years later. She resigned from the Government last September, claiming that “I no longer believe that leaving with a deal is the Government’s main objective”.
This was singularly ungrateful. More importantly, it was wrong. The Prime Minister always wanted a deal with the EU. Which is why he got one the very next month. Rudd had succummed to Johnson Derangement Syndrome.
She also resigned the whip. If she believed that the Conservatives would lose her Hastings and Rye seat in a forthcoming general election, she was mistaken about that, too. Sally-Ann Hart held it in December by over four thousand votes.
So Rudd could, like Greg Clark and Steve Brine, have made her peace with the Government, regained the whip and then, almost certainly, get re-elected to Parliament.
She would thus have been a reasonable position to lobby for her successor at Work and Pensions. Instead, she has no seat, let alone a Ministerial post – and is wretchedly placed to do Coffey any good. Or anyone else. ConHome will return to the shuffle tomorrow.