Night of the blunt stiletto
May’s new year relaunch off to false start as ministers refuse to move in reshuffle
THERESA MAY’S hopes of asserting her authority with a Cabinet revamp fell flat last night after senior ministers derailed her reshuffle by refusing to move from their jobs.
Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, faced down the Prime Minister when she asked him to become business secretary, forcing Mrs May to tear up her plans to promote or move other ministers.
Justine Greening, who had been asked to move from education to work and pensions, dug in her heels during two and a half hours inside Downing Street, refusing the new role before finally resigning.
Mrs May’s inability to impose her will on her ministers was mocked as “embarrassing” by some of her own MPS, with one Government source describing the day’s events as “the night of the blunt stiletto”.
Downing Street had billed the reshuffle as a new year relaunch, but instead Mrs May’s attempts to generate fresh impetus were scuppered as she failed to significantly increase the number of female or ethnic minority ministers in full Cabinet roles.
Last night, with the reshuffle still ongoing, Mrs May had failed to sack a single minister. Having started her reshuffle at 11.30am, it took more than seven hours before a new face joined the Cabinet.
Sixteen Cabinet ministers stayed in the same roles, including Philip Hammond, Amber Rudd, Boris Johnson, David Davis, Michael Gove and Liam Fox. Three ministers resigned, three moved to other departments and four junior ministers were promoted to Cabinet posts. One minister said: “It’s the reshuffle that never was, it’s bizarre. It just looks weak.”
It follows the loss of Mrs May’s majority in last year’s general election and the fiasco of October’s Conservative Party Conference.
The biggest winner of the day was David Lidington, who becomes Mrs May’s new de facto deputy after he was promoted from Justice Secretary to Minister for the Cabinet Office, taking on most of the responsibilities vacated by Damian Green when he was forced to resign last month.
But the tone for what was to become a chaotic day in Downing Street started when the party wrongly announced on Twitter that Chris Grayling, the Transport Secretary, had been given the job of party chairman.
The tweet – understood to have been based on erroneous television reports – was swiftly deleted before Brandon Lewis, who started the day as immigration minister, was unveiled as the new man in charge of Conservative Campaign Headquarters.
He replaced Sir Patrick Mcloughlin, 60, who resigned after being blamed
for the election and party conference failures.
Mrs May’s plans went seriously awry when she called Mr Hunt into No10. Mrs May intended instead to move him to business, replacing Greg Clark, believing that after almost six years as Health Secretary it was time for Mr Hunt to move on.
During an hour-long showdown, however, Mr Hunt “passionately” argued his case, insiders said. He emerged with the beefed-up title of Secretary of State for Health and Social Care.
Mrs May then lost her battle to move Ms Greening, forcing her to change her plans once again. Damian Hinds, a minister at work and pensions, was the big surprise mover of the day when he was promoted to Education Secretary.
Esther Mcvey moved from the Whips’ Office to become the new Work and Pensions Secretary, replacing David Gauke who became Justice Secretary.
James Brokenshire, the Northern Ireland Secretary, resigned after announcing he needed major surgery and was replaced by Karen Bradley, from the Culture department. She was replaced by her deputy, Matt Hancock.
Jeremy Hunt and Justine Greening turned down new roles in Mrs May’s reshuffle