The Prime Minister’s latest reshuffle was less about changing the public face of the Government but more about trying to secure the Conservative Party’s own long term future.
The initial ‘mis-steps’ and communications failings on who was taking over as Party Chairman and issues with the Party’s website showed that the Mrs May was right to deal with the workings of the Party itself first. It failings proved the case for change. The way that it campaigns, communicates (not least through social media channels), grows and motivates its membership base all looked like it needed drastic change, and Mrs May delivered that.
However, whilst CCHQ may have been bolstered by a number of rising stars and experienced former Ministers, with 13 Vice Chairs all vying to show what they can do there is the prospect of dissent and discord. As Party Chairman, Brandon Lewis has his work cut out.
Some of these party appointments may be destined for greatness in the future so are in the roles to gain experience; others are there for a specific job; but others may be trying to figure out what their role really is.
The lack of turnover in the Cabinet did come as a surprise to most especially given the apparent media briefings. What this means though is that they will all, by and large, remain in place for the rest of Mrs May’s time as Prime Minister.
That could open up opportunities for Ministers to try and develop new ideas and policies. They can feel a little freer from the constraints that they may otherwise have felt. In other words, unless they do something really silly, they are safe in their jobs. The chances are that this will be Mrs May’s last reshuffle unless events and / or sleaze intervene.
So with Ministers feeling safe, this could open up some room for the Government to start thinking big again. They certainly need to once Brexit is largely out of the way otherwise demonstrating any level of achievement in the run-up to the next General Election will be a massive challenge. Simply having a different leader will not be sufficient. The space to generate policies will be good for the party’s future.
Without saying as much, the changes at junior ministerial level echo Mrs May’s attempts to shift away from the Conservatives being the ‘nasty party’. By demonstrating that it looks more like the country at large, she obviously hopes to shake up the Conservative Party and its image. Again, good for the future and with the newer intake of MPs, she has been able to do this.
Whilst she obviously felt unable to shift Cabinet positions around, she has recognised the need to tackle head-on the Government’s, and her own, appearance of weakness and simply being at the mercy of events. The failure to shift Jeremy Hunt from Health hasn’t helped counteract that but action was needed before the local elections later this year. If current polls are to be relied upon then the Conservatives could lose control of flagship London boroughs. If that happens then she could well face a challenge to her leadership.
There are now a bunch of enthusiastic junior Ministers biting at the heels of the senior masters. This could provide the next raft of Ministers but they will still remain largely unknown to the public so it won’t provide an immediate boost in support or the relaunch that was apparently being sought.
The flip side is that No 10 has diminished in authority. The poor way in which the reshuffle was initially handled and how some Secretaries of State were able to convince the Prime Minister not to move them, shows were the power really resides at the moment. Ironically, that may itself help her successor who will doubtless exercise more power and authority on taking over. They will be everything that Mrs May is not.
Mrs May is trying to build the party of the future and the main beneficiary will not be her, but the party’s next leader. This is partly by design and partly by accidental failures but it shows that the Conservative Party is already ruthlessly thinking ahead to the next General Election.