Theresa May's reshuffle failed to show she's in charge

Written by Mandy Rhodes on 14 January 2018 in Comment

Theresa May's reshuffle was meant to be her new start. It was meant to stamp some authority over a team that has made no pretence of being collegiate

New Year, new start. And thoughts inevitably turn to ways to refresh, reboot and make an impact. It’s what those annual resolutions are all about and why gyms are now full and biscuit tins empty.

And so, to the Cabinet reshuffle.

It’s fair to say that ministerial musical chairs rarely excite anyone outside Westminster, but given this PM’s record over set-piece incompetence, her every move has become a spectator sport.

It’s hard to remember the Theresa May that was the no-nonsense home secretary who told the police what for, who called-out the ‘Nasty Party’, who cleared out the big beasts like George Osborne, and who set a determined face on building a country for all and not the few.

She has become diminished in office, says little of import and now engenders more sympathy than even just ridicule, which in some ways would feel kinder.

With every calamity, May looks less like a leader and more like a political prisoner, trapped in Downing Street by her own troops, sandwiched between the warring factions of her own party on Brexit. There is no clear escape and yet she knows she is held there, treading water, waiting for something else, someone else, to come along and take over.

This reshuffle was meant to be her new start. It was meant to stamp some authority over a team that has made no pretence of being collegiate. It was meant to promote women and minorities, cast off its air of white, male and stale, show she was more than just a PM for Brexit and to reflect a Britain of today.

Instead, it revealed, yet again, a PM held hostage. She kept an Old Etonian Brexiteer, best known for clodhopping his way around the world in his role of foreign secretary, endangering lives and insulting nations, and she lost a modern, working-class, state-educated, intelligent, hard-working woman, driven by a desire to achieve social inclusion, who also just happens to be gay.

It smells wrong.

In a day of catastrophes, when even social media conspired against her, when the wrong announcements were made and time just dragged on, she didn’t sack the ones she should have or persuade those she wanted to stay to remain.

She couldn’t get some ministers to shift – one even persuading her to extend his brief rather than make the move, others emerging with just slightly elongated titles. It was a kerfuffle not a shuffle and presumably this had not been the plan.

The reshuffle that aimed to showcase May’s renewed authority after a minor Brexit success ended up highlighting her failings. Nothing, it seemed, had changed because she couldn’t make it happen.

May is paralysed by her own poor judgement and boxed into a corner by enfeeblement. She was never going to be able to make change because she’s not in charge. This reshuffle was more rehash than refresh. But at least she proved a success at adding to her own failures.

And then there was Toby Young.

In her New Year’s Day speech, May made a timely pledge to use the centenary of women getting the vote as a chance to “eliminate all prejudice and discrimination”.

And then came the inevitable custard pie and her government had to spend a week defending the misogynistic comments of its newly appointed universities regulator before he quit.

And even on this, May was not on the front-foot. She didn’t sack him – he got to resign.

But why did any able-minded person think that Young, with a legacy of such appalling opinions about women, the working class and the disabled, was ever going to be the acceptable face of a student body? Where was the due diligence, the judgement, the leadership? The adherence to governance?

And so to Richard Leonard and the appointment to the Scottish Parliament’s Corporate Body of erstwhile celebrity Kezia Dugdale.…

On the day that May was bumbling her way through a disastrous rearrangement of the ministerial deckchairs, MSPs voted unanimously, bar three notable abstentions, to appoint Dugdale to one of the parliament’s ruling bodies.

Despite the vote, many MSPs tell me they are incredulous. I hear that most basically got the email saying Dugdale was Leonard’s sole nomination to the SPCB as they walked into the chamber to vote on the first day back after Christmas recess.

Given the convention in these matters is to simply vote in support of what the party leader wants, Dugdale was duly appointed.

And she is now, rather ironically, given her own unscheduled absence from the parliament, responsible for ensuring that the parliament is provided with the property, staff and services it requires to operate smoothly.

Why would anyone, not least a previously snubbed party leader who had reportedly handed Dugdale a ‘written warning’ on her return from Oz, feel it was appropriate for her to be elevated into such an important position on one of the Scottish Parliament’s ruling bodies so soon after having effectively brought the institution into disrepute?

The SPCB might hold no interest to the outside world, but it is a vital and influential cog in the parliamentary wheel. It couldn’t be more farcical that the MSP that walked out on the job, who is facing legal action and cashed in on her 'celebrity' to the tune of £85,000 for a three-week absence, is now such an integral part of preserving the integrity of that very institution.

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