It’s funny, but 2016 already seems like a long time ago – much further back in time than a mere three years, anyway. Yesterday, I skimmed through a few posts on here from the moment at which Theresa May moved into Downing Street and there was mention of her mini-‘Night of The Long Knives’ reshuffle. I can barely even remember that now, but there it was in black-and-white, describing how the post-Cameron clear-out of the Cabinet saw P45s handed to the likes of Dave stalwarts Osborne, Gove, Morgan and Whittingdale; yes, the last name has all-but vanished from memory, though I seem to recall talk of liaisons with an ‘escort’ making the headlines at some point. Perhaps the fact that Mrs May fired a few Ministers when she grabbed the poisoned chalice has been utterly forgotten due to the record number that left of their own volition during her brief tenure in office; some of them have now come in from the cold at the behest of Boris.
Following the now-customary exercise in sentimental insincerity that accompanies the farewell performance of a Prime Minister at the dispatch-box, Mrs May was swiftly dispatched to the past tense by her successor – as were most of her Ministers. The speed that the new PM employed was undoubtedly necessary; after all, he only has 99 days to keep his most important promise; but the scale of the ‘massacre’ perhaps reflected the urgency he exhibited during his rapid-fire inaugural address before the press yesterday afternoon. He doesn’t have the luxury of test-driving Ministers with L-plates; it makes much more sense to assemble essentially the same ‘Team Boris’ he would have put together three years ago had his anticipated coronation not been postponed and he’d had a little more breathing space than he has now.
Some of the most inflexible Remainers – Hammond, Stewart, Lidington, Gauke – walked the plank voluntarily, whereas Jeremy (he’s an entrepreneur) Hunt decided to jump rather than face demotion. All would have been obstructive obstacles to Johnson’s intentions, yet a notable Brexiteer such as Penny Mordaunt has also been shown the door, presumably because she supported Hunt in the leadership contest. One of the first to sign-up to the Leave side in 2016, the incomparably incompetent Chris Grayling, has gone too – though I was quite looking forward to seeing which Ministry he’d be let loose on next. Plenty of Ministers whose names are so forgettable that their faces are impossible to evoke have been axed as well, the kind like Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley or Culture and Digital Minister Jeremy Wright (no, me neither), whose lack of interest in (or qualification for) the posts they were awarded mirrored the cluelessness of the woman who awarded them.
Back in March, the avalanche of resignations left 15 ministerial posts vacant; it began to look like either nobody wanted them or the dearth of talent within the Conservative Party meant there was nobody to fill them. The return of Amber Rudd to the Cabinet, a year after the former Home Secretary had been forced to carry the can for Windrush policies instigated by Mrs May, highlighted the PM’s desperation. Now Rudd is one of the few survivors of the cull, having shrewdly amended her opposition to the No Deal option. She breathes a sigh of relief alongside Sajid Javid, Michael Gove, Liz Truss and Matt Hancock. Amongst the notable returning ex-Ministers are Priti Patel, Dominic Raab, Andrea Leadsom, Esther McVey, Nicky Morgan, Theresa Villiers, and that crafty Gavin Williamson, creeping back in with the stealth of a certain tarantula after a mere 84 days in the sin bin. Brother Jo is back too.
Swapping the Home Office for the Treasury is not the most optimistic of moves when one is made aware of Sajid Javid’s somewhat questionable grasp of figures. In his senior managerial role at Deutsche Bank before he entered Parliament, Javid enthusiastically embraced a tax-avoidance scheme that resulted in a courtroom defeat when it was exposed; as Business Secretary, he ended the Business Growth Service, a much-needed and profitable sponsor of small businesses; and he also gave the green light to the sale of Tata Steel’s Scunthorpe branch to a company with a disastrous track record, a company which upheld its reputation with the swift slide of British Steel into administration. Let’s hope he remembers to pack his calculator when he moves in to No.11. Like the resurfacing of Priti Patel’s previous (?) views on capital punishment now that she has been promoted to Home Secretary, Javid’s present will inevitably be viewed through the prism of his past if he buggers it up.
Ironically, for all the talk of the hard right and its rigid racial/social elitism having seized control, some have pointed out the accidental ‘multicultural mix’ at the very tip of the Tory iceberg. On Twitter, journalist Tom Harwood asked if this was the most ‘Woke’ the four great offices of state have ever been – ‘The grandson of a Turkish Muslim, the daughter of Indian-Ugandan Hindus, the son of Pakistani Muslims, and the son of a Jewish Czech refugee.’ Or is this backdoor diversity, achieved organically and without any inclusivity committees, shortlists and affirmative-action initiatives? Of course, the ethnic origins of those mentioned should be irrelevant to the skills required for the job, but it’s not difficult to imagine how the Labour Party would have made something of a song-and-dance about having a ‘Diversity Cabinet’ and milked it to the max.
The Ministers May fired in 2016 were expected to be troublesome from the backbenches, though Mrs May found those actually in the Cabinet (certainly after 2017) far more troublesome than the odd Rees-Mogg outside the tent pissing-in. But May’s concerns were initially eased by the fact she inherited a working majority from her predecessor; the same does not apply for Boris. If the Tories lose the upcoming Brecon and Radnorshire by-election to the Lib Dems, Johnson’s majority will be reduced to two. There’s no doubt the absence of time before a certain deadline has prompted the new PM into acting with such ruthless swiftness, but I suspect a motion of no confidence emanating from a Labour-Lib Dem alliance will only come when/if a package from Brussels sprouts before the Commons. However, if the Tory ‘rebels’ will be sufficiently irked at losing their jobs and sufficiently dedicated to the Remain agenda to vote down their own Government, the General Election to follow could well make real their recurring nightmare of a Corbyn administration. We shall see.
This week’s heat-wave may not last as long as the dry spell that made last summer so uncomfortable for those of us averse to a tropical climate, but I’ve a feeling the temperature will remain extremely high in Westminster until the autumn. Boris knows he has to deliver and deliver fast. If he’s to avoid presiding over the shortest tenure at No.10 in history, he needs to keep the knotted hanky mothballed and work through the holiday season. He’s made a start.
© The Editor