Would a cabinet reshuffle make or break Theresa May’s leadership?
Since the 2017 election, to this point, Theresa May has made 3 changes to her frontline cabinet. The first reintroduced Michael Gove, into the position of Environment secretary. The resignations of Michael Fallon and Priti Patel, only two weeks apart from one another, triggered the later 2 appointments.
The recent resignation of Damien Green, incidentally a long time ally and confidante of May, has left a gaping vacancy as First Secretary of State and Minister for the Cabinet office, May’s de-facto deputy PM. This, too, was a resignation of necessity.
The magnitude of Green’s resignation gives the Prime Minister the opportunity to pull off a wider reshuffle in which to address the abhorrence of: Philip Hammond’s comments suggesting disabled workers hinder productivity; Boris Johnson, for exacerbating criminal proceedings of a British citizen being detained abroad, intervening with the Brexit process and making facetious comments on the Libyan political climate; and David Davis, for being in contempt of parliament.
“Greater love hath no man than this - he lay down his friends for his own life.”
Ensuing the 1962 ‘Night of the Long Knives,’ Enoch Powell spoke NOT of being “easily persuaded of the sorrow in the heart of a butcher.” The recent resignation of Green has caused similar comments, following Jeremy Hunt’s suggestion that May called for his resignation with a “heavy heart.”
The fragility of Brexit makes a reshuffle especially challenging. To reshuffle would be to reinstate supposedly circumvented hurdles to the cohesion of the cabinet over the government’s approach to the Brexit negotiations. Also, it risks alienating backbenchers who are becoming increasingly frustrated and disillusioned with the process.
Only 48 Conservative MPs are needed to trigger a vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister. Now May has laid the impetus for a wider reshuffle, she can rectify the cabinet’s cohesion, though likely to her own expense – despite the fact Ministers should serve at the pleasure of the Prime Minister.
To survive, May must seize the opportunity to rejuvenate the party by swiftly introducing members of the 2010, 2015 and potentially 2017 cohorts to cabinet positions. To do this, she ought to continue by replacing her allies to prevent further discontent, with increasing frequency of rumours that over 30 MPs may be willing to consign her to electoral oblivion already.
Though, instead of rejuvenating the party, the beleaguered Prime Minister can only manage to perpetuate the absence of careful leadership, giving the political delinquents of her current cabinet the opportunity to oust her from within, in the absence of those that would otherwise defend her.
As Jacob Rees-Mogg aptly put it: “A big reshuffle is often a greater sign of weakness than in strength.” A reshuffle would be politically detrimental for May, and would almost certainly lay the framework for the end of her premiership, or at very least speed up the process.