In Depth

Cabinet reshuffle: Theresa May’s show of strength - or limitations?

Cabinet big beasts remain as shake-up of ministers gets off to inauspicious start

Theresa May today announced her much-anticipated cabinet reshuffle, viewed as a vital part of her bid to find a way back from last year’s election disaster.

“Like so many prime ministers before her, May’s aim is to clear out the Government’s underperforming old hands and present a younger, more diverse face to the public,” says Politico’s Jack Blanchard.

But the reshuffle was thrown into confusion almost immediately when an official tweet announced Chris Grayling as the new Conservative Party chairman. The tweet was swiftly deleted and Brandon Lewis was given the job instead.

Sam Coates of The Times blames the switch on “internal pushback”.

The incident creates a fresh “danger for No. 10”, as “it is likely that the press are now going to report the whole reshuffle through a cock-up prism”, says The Spectator’s James Forsyth. Lewis’s appointment is popular, however.

“While the ultimate responsibility for the disastrous snap election lays squarely with the PM herself, the party is desperate to have a new face in the chairman’s job,” says HuffPost’s Paul Waugh.

May chose former justice secretary David Lidington to replace Damian Green as Cabinet Office Minister. Liddington will liaise with parliamentary committees and the governments of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales on Brexit, but will not be first secretary of state - the title given to Green.

A new beginning?

James Brokenshire has stood down as secretary for Northern Ireland, on health grounds. The New Statesman’s Stephen Bush says the minister’s failure to restart power-sharing following the Cash for Ash scandal “eroded Brokenshire’s standing with both Sinn Fein and the DUP, as well as the rest of the Northern Irish political establishment”.

The Cabinet’s biggest beasts, Amber Rudd, Philip Hammond, Boris Johnson and David Davis, were all expected to keep their jobs, “possibly because May has decided there is more risk in moving them than in keeping them in place”, says Blanchard.

The Daily Telegraph’s Chistopher Hope believes May is set to appoint a “Cabinet minister for no deal Brexit”, to “show Brussels and Brexiteers alike that Britain is serious about walking away without a deal if talks fail”.

“The shake-up will herald a new focus on things voters actually care about: housing, schools, the NHS and environment,” says Matt Chorley in The Times. “A reshuffle sends a signal of strength from No. 10, proves the PM is here to stay, and gives a sense of purpose.”

Having called a 2016 election that cost the Tories their parliamentary majority, “this reshuffle is May’s one and only chance to prove she’s in power as well as in office”, says ITV’s Robert Peston. “If she pulls it off, she can be confident of remaining Prime Minister for at least another year, perhaps longer. Fluff it, and the patience of her party will be almost exhausted.”

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