The second week of January is around the time that New Year’s Resolutions start getting broken, and if Theresa May’s resolution was to become a more decisive leader, her’s went out the window this week as well. The Prime Minister was extremely cautious with her much anticipated reshuffle, leaving almost every Cabinet Minister in their existing role – but when she did try and stick her neck out and make a change, her attempts backfired spectacularly.
Jeremy Hunt was expected to get the sack from his job as Health Secretary, after a turbulent reign culminating in the current crisis of resourcing in the NHS. But was he dismissed? No, infact, he ended up with an expanded brief after flatly refusing to change his post. Elsewhere, Justine Greening decided to resign rather than moving from her position as Education Secretary. Quite why Theresa May hadn’t been able to work out which moves were feasible and which weren’t in advance remains a mystery, but what is clear is that ministers are not afraid to take the Prime Minister on. And this botched reshuffle will only send the message to everyone else in the Cabinet that the boss doesn’t have control.
It wasn’t just the rebellions that made the reshuffle embarrassing. It was the way it was implemented. Confusion reigned on Monday, with the Conservative Party’s official twitter account announcing that Chris Grayling was going to become Party Chair, before deleting the tweet, leaving everyone scratching their heads wondering whether the announcement had just been leaked too soon, or if it wasn’t true at all, (the latter, it transpired.)
This is not the end of the world. A clumsy reshuffle will not be the fatal blow to Mrs May’s premiership, but over the coming months, she must find a way of demonstrating to her Government and to the country that she is still in charge, and that she is capable of running a competent operation out of Number 10. This week was her first chance of the year to do that. She failed.