THERESA May’s somewhat chaotic reshuffle represents the Prime Minister’s best – and potentially last chance – to revive the fortunes of the Government and Conservative Party after nearly eight years in power.
She will hope her new team is more inspired than the Tory social media machine which was fallible during the election and then tweeted – erroneously – that Chris Grayling had become party chairman.
Such mishaps illustrate the formidable challenge facing the new chairman Brandon Lewis, his well-regarded deputy James Cleverly, a former soldier, and a team of new vice-chairs, including Harrogate MP Andrew Jones, as they begin to rebuild the party’s shattered support base.
It should not have taken last June’s ill-advised election, and seven months of muddle, for the Conservatives – once the natural party of government – to realise that their electoral machine was unfit for purpose; that the party’s structures were not emblematic of multi-cultural Britain and they could not counter the populism espoused by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn because they simply didn’t know how to communicate in the modern age.
Yet, after a prolonged period in power dealing with the combined forces of austerity and Brexit, the Tories need to prove they’re still a party for the future and capable of responding to the concerns of families across the UK, including the forgotten North.
As such, the test of this reshuffle is whether the Government can still prove its competence and put together a radical domestic agenda that delivers genuine improvements to public services and living standards, while championing aspiration for all and a ‘can do’ spirit of enterprise.
This is still a land of opportunity, as evidenced by the Northern Powerhouse agenda, and the reappointment of Middlesbrough-born Greg Clark as Business Secretary was welcome after much uncertainty – he’s one of the few top Tories who understands the North and social mobility.
Given this issue’s importance, it is regrettable that the aforementioned Mr Grayling retains the transport brief after the earlier hiatus over the party chairmanship. He’s been shown to be untrustworthy, biased in favour of London and no friend of Yorkshire. It’s even more disappointing that Rotherham-born Justine Greening has been forced out of her dream job at education where her calm approach was respected by hard-to-please teachers.
The PM will regret both decisions unless policy-making becomes more effective in this new-look Cabinet – significantly housing has been added to Sajid Javid’s communities brief while Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s new title reflects the fact that the NHS and social care are inter-related.
Though Britain’s exit from the EU is still the defining issue, more Tories should show the type of vigour that Michael Gove has brought to the revitalised environment brief. However this will only happen if Ministers focus more on policy and delivery, and less so on personalities and rivalries.
For, if Mrs May’s changes do have the desired effect, both her country, and her party, should benefit.