Out with the Old, In with the New: Cabinet is Reshuffled…But Has May’s Grip on Power Loosened?

Houses of Parliament

Image Credit: By Adrian Pingstone (talk · contribs) (Self-photographed) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In this column just one week ago, I pontificated upon the possibility that Theresa May might be considering a reshuffle of her cabinet ministers in an attempt to elbow Jeremy Hunt out of his position as Health Security and into the more obscure, less public-facing role that his complete lack of humility deserves.

Little did I know that the PM was already grafting away behind close doors, deciding who she wanted to promote and who she wanted to cull ahead of a make or break year for her Conservative government.

Little did I, or anyone else presumably, expect that Hunt might actually bag himself a promotion!

Despite failing the NHS at every given opportunity, Hunt’s new remit sees him installed as the ‘secretary of state for health and social care’….it would be laughable if it wasn’t so damn unfunny.

There were plenty of other moves in the shake-up, and that pushed quite a few noses out of joint. Education minister Justine Greening actually quit the cabinet rather than move to the Department for Work and Pensions, while there were rumours that business secretary Greg Clark and Hunt himself refused to move to new areas of focus.

The move came as May sough to redress the balance in her ‘pale and male’ cabinet, although all of the big guns, from Phillip Hammond to Chris Grayling, have been kept on despite pressure on the PM to freshen things up.

Labour branded the reshuffle as a ‘PR exercise’, and you can’t help but think that the prime minister missed a trick in not sanctioning the moves of more high profile figures in the cabinet in an effort to restore her own power.

Nevertheless, here’s a quick overview of the key players in the cabinet heading into 2018:

Damian Hinds – Education Secretary

Damian Hinds

Image Credit: Chris McAndrew [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

A rather low-key minister, Hinds is best known for his work in the DWP and having to field some rather difficult enquiries about universal credit in a Commons debate when his boss, David Gauke, backed out of the firing line.

An interesting appointment, Hinds is considered something of a centralist with his views on social mobility and welfare, and in an intriguing twist he also voted Remain during the Brexit referendum.

A graduate of the University of Oxford, the 48-yar-old replaces the outgoing Justine Greening.

Esther McVey – Work and Pensions

Esther McVey

Image Credit: Chris McAndrew [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Arguably the most controversial promotion in the reshuffle is that of TV presenter turned politician Esther McVey, a much reviled figure in David Cameron’s government who introduced the welfare sanctions that would ultimately force the sick, the injured and the disabled back into work prematurely.

She was also a noted supporter of the so-called Bedroom Tax and zero hours contracts, and it was a combination of the above factors that saw her ousted from her seat in Wirral during the 2015 election.

When George Osborn decided to leave politics it was McVey who benefited by landing his safe Tory seat in Tatton, Chester, and her new role as work and pensions secretary is a strange appointment. Even if you are strapped to a ventilator, expect to be forced back into employment by this unforgiving minister.

Claire Perry – Climate Change

Clare Perry

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Yes, there is a role for a climate change minister in parliament (it was news to me too), and in keeping with the overarching theme of ‘controversy’ Perry is a surprising choice even in a role as low-profile as this one.

She quit a role as railways minister because she became ‘fed up of justifying how crap our railways are’, and during a heated Brexit debate she branded Leave voting Tory colleagues as ‘Jihadis’.

As climate change minister Perry is unlikely to get much airtime; but when she does it might just be golden.

Matt Hancock – Culture Secretary

Matt Hancock

Image Crdit: Chris McAndrew [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Proof positive that the Tories want to be ‘down with the kids’ after losing a significant portion of the last election to the youth vote, May has promoted self-confessed grime (the music genre, not general dirt) fanatic Matt Hancock to the post of culture secretary.

Formerly the digital minister (I promise these positions aren’t made up), one of Hancock’s first jobs in the cabinet will be to advise on whether the sale of Sky to Rupert Murdoch’s axis of evil Fox can be rubber-stamped on the basis of media plurality….good luck with that.