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Theresa May misses an opportunity to regalvanize her party

TODAY’s cabinet reshuffle has been touted as a golden opportunity for Theresa May to achieve two things: impose her authority on the Conservative Party after the general election debacle and re-energize her party to deal with the growing threat from Jeremy Corbin. She failed spectacularly in achieving either goal.

The biggest change of the day is that David Lidington, a little known figure in the Major administration, will replace Damian Green as Secretary of State in the Cabinet Office, giving him the chairmanship of around 20 Cabinet committees and the responsibility for coordinating policy. (Mr Lidington will not have Mr Green’s important but largely meaningless title of Deputy Prime Minister.) James Brokenshire will also retire as Secretary of State for Ireland. But that is largely due to health concerns (Mr Brokenshire needs lung surgery) rather than a political imperative. He will be replaced by another loyal May, Karen Bradley.

Other than that, everything was much ado about nothing at the time of writing. The press spent the day in feverish speculation. Ministers marched down Downing Street in what is meant to be a march of triumph or shame. And then Downing Street announced that it had decided to stick to business as usual. All the biggest beasts continue to pace in the same cages: Philip Hammond at the Treasury, Amber Rudd at the Home Office, Boris Johnson at the Foreign Office. David Davis remains minister for the exit from the EU. Jeremy Hunt spent two hours in Downing Street chatting with the Prime Minister. But he walked out in the same job he came in, as health minister. The biggest drama of the day was rightly provided by something that didn’t happen: an official tweeted that lackluster transport minister Chris Grayling was being moved on to become party chairman , prompting howls of disbelief from reporters before another official source tweeted that it had all been a mistake.

The non-reshuffle has reinforced a sense that Ms May is a prisoner of her party rather than her master. It is not only too weak to get rid of charismatic incompetents like Boris Johnson, who remains foreign secretary despite a succession of blunders. It is even too weak to move competent uncharismatic people, such as Jeremy Hunt, who would have refused to move from the health department to the business department – or even to demote incompetent uncharismatic people such as Greg Clark, who presumably remains at work because Mrs May could not think of someone to replace him when Mr Hunt refused to budge.

Rather than reshaping her Cabinet, Ms May appears to have devoted most of her energy to balance and presentation: preserving the balance of power between Brexiteers and Remainers in Cabinet (Mr Lidington shares strong pro-Remain views by Damian Green, for example) and renaming departments on the bizarre assumption that renaming things actually changes reality. Two departments now have longer names than at the start of the day: the Department of Health is the Department of Health and Social Care and the Department of Communities has become the Department of Housing, Planning and Communities.

The only bright spot of the day was provided by Ms May’s decision to sack Sir Patrick McLoughlin as party chairman. Sir Patrick is highly regarded within the Conservative Party. But he carries the can (along with the Prime Minister and his team) for the June election debacle. As the longest-serving MP in Parliament, he is also out of touch with the new world of social media and Twitter storms. Brandon Lewis is a good choice to replace him: he has a good command of social networks and has the added advantage of speaking with a strong regional accent. Ms. May also provided him with striking juniors such as James Cleverly, his assistant, and Kemi Badenoch, one of the most bubbly members of the Class of 2017.

Source: Economist

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