Make no mistake about it. This was no ordinary Cabinet ‘reshuffle’. Prime Minister May, over the course of three days, has effectively introduced a new Conservative Government. From her ‘one nation’ statement of principles delivered on the doorstep of Downing Street, to the finer points of her Cabinet appointments and promotions, May has quietly but boldly turned the page on the compassionate conservatism of the Notting Hill set and ushered-in an earthier Conservatism designed to heal rifts in society, win back wavering working class voters from UKIP and provide a managerial structure to process and negotiate the impact of Brexit.
There was also a whiff of ‘tidy-up after you’ about some of the appointments she made. Leading Brexiteers were placed in departments likely to deal most with the consequences of the vote to leave the EU. Not only will Boris Johnson have to re-invent himself as a politician of stature and consequence befitting a statesman not a soap-box politician, but he will have to deal daily and publicly with the international reaction to the exit decision. David Davis will have to design and manage the exit negotiations. Liam Fox will oversee the trade deals with other trading blocks outside Europe. Andrea Leadsom will have to pacify outraged farmers deprived of their EU grants. But it wasn’t just Brexiteers made to tidy up their own mess. Jeremy Hunt, after strong rumours of his sacking, was kept in place at the Department of Health with the urgent task of sorting out the junior doctors dispute.
With the inclusion of the likes of Priti Patel, May has slightly increased the percentage of women around the Cabinet table as active participants rather than ‘in attendance’.
She was also speedy in clearing out all the vestiges of the Cameron team within No 10. Their names were removed instantly from the Downing Street website, and whilst this may be nothing but good administrative practice, it was also pretty clear that they wouldn’t be treated to a lengthy handover period. May confirmed her new team of Special Advisers today. They comprise the trusted and talented of her past teams, with the notable return of Nick Timothy, from the New Schools Network, and Fiona Hill as Joint Chief’s of Staff.
But it wasn’t just the personalities of Cabinet which have changed. The structures of Government have been changed as well.
Boris Johnson’s Foreign Office is no longer the formidable beast it once was. With EU negotiations hived off in a separate Department under David Davis and another new Department for international trade set up under Liam Fox, the FO is losing some of the cache that it has become accustomed to. Education has been enlarged and the new Department for Business Energy & Industrial Strategy has taken over the core functions of the BIS and DECC.
About the only anomaly in this reformation of Government structures is the continuance of DFID. Although unsaid, the survival of this department relies more on the 2015 manifesto commitment not to abolish it than it does to May’s own intentions. And as if to underline the point, May has set in charge over it Priti Patel – one of the more vocal advocates of its abolition.
If holding true to the DFID Manifesto seems an odd priority to adhere to when so much goodwill amongst the right wing of her Party could so easily be bought by its abolition, you should remember this; no member of the public has had the option to vote for this version of Conservatism.
The manifesto they are obliged by convention to adhere to and enact is the one that David Cameron and George Osborne set before the public just over a year ago. If May really wanted to legitimise her new Government she’d be taking us into a General Election. She’s been clear she has no intention to go to the polls at this stage, but with business as usual out the window, it’s still a plausible outcome as Britain heads towards Brexit. Then we’d all have yet another big thing to worry about.