The Waugh Zone Tuesday January 9, 2018

The five things you need to know about politics today.

For Theresa May, it never rains, but it pours. Yesterday’s reshuffle was meant to underline her authority, yet confirmed she lacked it. And this morning’s news about Toby Young’s resignation from the Office for Students is further evidence of a Prime Minister who is buffeted about by events rather than in charge of them.

Young’s pre-dawn blog on the Spectator website may or may not have been the result of a quiet word from someone in Government (the PM’s spokesman was asked yesterday if the PM had discussed Young with Andrea Leadsom, and told us he was ‘not aware’ of any such conversation taking place on Monday morning). It may or may not have been prompted by the threat of fresh allegations (rumours abound about not just his remarks but his conduct). Yet it is hugely embarrassing to May, coming just hours after she defended him, albeit with a warning that he should be judged on his future not his past. It seems whoever is in charge of ‘due diligence’ on Government appointments failed to run even a cursory Google search of his Tweets and columns.

But will the Johnson brothers, Boris and Jo, be embarrassed too? The Universities Minister spent yesterday shoring up Young’s reputation to MPs, declaring “the opposition would have us believe he is not qualified or suitable to be on the board”. The Guardian got hold of some ‘lines to take’for Tory MPs, claiming Labour was ‘hypocritical’ on sex harassment. Boris, under whose editorship Young wrote some of his notorious columns, had tweeted in praise of his ‘caustic wit’.

Yet for all the excuses made for Young, it was difficult to counter the real anger felt among many Tories for his views on eugenics. Education Committee chairman Rob Halfon, who warned yesterday this was ‘dark and very dangerous stuff’, welcomed his resignation on the Today programme this morning. Even new Tory chairman Brandon Lewis, with all his media skills, struggled to explain why the PM hadn’t sacked him.

Today the PM will try to regain the political initiative with a wide-ranging reshuffle of the junior ranks, particularly aimed at getting women, young, working class and minority ethnic MPs into Government. The real task is getting more diversity at minister of state level, the rung below Cabinet. Getting a ‘bulging pipeline’ of talent was David Cameron’s repeated aim but neither he nor May have managed to achieve it. Yesterday’s changes – more a re-brand than a reshuffle, and a botched one at that [see my HuffPost Snap Verdict]– left no net increase in women in full Cabinet posts. There was a net increase of just two women to Cabinet overall, including lower-status ‘attendees of Cabinet’. There was no change in racial diversity, a net loss of one LGBT Cabinet minister, and fewer comprehensive-educated and non-Oxbridge ministers at the top table.

Our write-through feature last night detailed how the shambolic reshuffle unfolded, and overnight there were some pretty dire newspaper headlines (even the Mail called it ‘chaos’ and the Express said it was a ‘trying day’). What most surprised some ministers was the “daft” decision to move David Gauke from DWP, where he was doing well in steadying the Universal Credit ship. Thanks to Justine Greening’s defiance, it’s Esther McVey (who made many enemies when last at DWP) who will be the face of Government welfare policy. It’s not as if May hadn’t had plenty of time to plan yesterday, or think of alternatives if some refused to move.

An arch Remainer, Greening may well become a Nicky Morgan-style thorn in May’s side now. George Osborne, who will surely court Greening to stick the boot in, couldn’t hide his glee that many of his other former Treasury proteges had got promotions or stayed in post (Javid, Hancock, Gauke, Hinds, Clark, and Perry). Sir Nicholas Soames is another Remainer but usually loyal. He tweeted last night ‘Is that it?’

Well, it’s not it. And the Sun predicts that more than 12 of the 2015 intake of Tory MPs will get promotions to Government today (many of our HuffPost ‘15 from 2015’, and indeed ’17 from 2017’, have proved ripe for promotion). That’s quite a number of new faces, with just two years’ experience (and sackings of older hands will create a fresh pool of names for Sir Graham Brady’s letters list). Young cardinals of course vote for old popes, but it’s still smart of the PM to think of the long-term. New party vice-chairmen Ben Bradley and Kemi Badenoch are very impressive and underline Tory confidence that Jeremy Corbyn can be beaten, and well beaten, in 2022. The party’s other big task though is to get its own numbers and activism up. Brandon Lewis this morning ducked the question of how many Tory party members there now are, and didn’t deny the figure of just 70,000.

Of course, Jeremy Hunt’s stubborn refusal to take on the role of Business Secretary was the key sticking point for the PM yesterday. It’s still baffling why she went ahead given that Hunt had signalled days ago he wasn’t keen on becoming First Secretary of State (the Mail and Times both have excellent intel that he had made plain beforehand he wanted to stay rather than take on Damian Green’s ‘backroom’ job). What is impressive is the way Hunt argued his case, persuading May that he needed to finish the job by taking more control of social care policy, though it is unclear if he takes on DCLG or the Cabinet Office’s powers in that area.

Yet amid all the furore over Hunt, many appeared to suggest that Business Secretary Greg Clark was a mere bystander. His department was indeed offered to Hunt, and sold as a big job crucial to the UK’s post-Brexit future. Yet I can reveal that far from having a negative view of Clark, the PM had intended that he should become the new Health Secretary, if Hunt had agreed to move.

A safe pair of hands and a deliverer rather than a headline-grabber, Clark could have been a balming influence on a wounded profession. The fact that May swiftly reappointed him (there conversation was brief and very cordial) as Business Secretary was a telling counterpoint to all those Government and No10 ‘sources’ briefing viciously against Clark. He will continue to apply his balm to British business, quietly delivering on his industrial strategy that many of them like, while offering reassurances on their post-Brexit future.

Hunt is now set to become the longest serving Health Secretary in history (he’s had his eye on passing Nye Bevan’s tenure in two months’ time, and will surpass Norman Fowler’s 5 years, 272 days record this autumn). Yet the Government’s tin-ear on the NHS was highlighted starkly yesterday precisely as Hunt stood in No.10 arguing to stay in post. Over in the Commons, health minister Philip Dunne blundered in saying patients waiting for beds in hospital need not worry because ‘most hospitals have seats’. On another day, that would have led the news. It still managed to make one of the key headlines.

Watch this animal-lover release a rehabilitated injured squirrel back into the wild. Sadly, a cat a close interest too.

The FT has a nice scoop that David Davis has consulted lawyers over the EU’s preparations for a no-deal Brexit, claiming Brussels’ planning is harming British business and breaching the UK’s rights as a member state. Yes, you read that right. Ministers here are spending up to £3bn on ‘no deal’ prep. There was even talk of a ‘no deal’ minister with Cabinet attendee status (just what happened to that yesterday?). But DD is upset that Brussels is failing to include in its guidance to business that a transition deal is likely.

He has sent a letter to the PM warning against EU “measures” that could jeopardise existing contracts or force British companies to decamp to the continent if the UK leaves the EU without a deal. Meanwhile, at last night’s PLP, Chuka Umunna walked out in disgust when Jeremy Corbyn again insisted the UK could not be a member of the EU single market once it quits the EU.

Amid the confusion of yesterday, one thing seemed to slip off the PM’s radar. Yes, after we got the final list of Cabinet full members and attendee members at nearly 10pm, there was still no announcement on who would actually be the new Minister for Women and Equalities. Having spotted the vacancy (left by Justine Greening), I asked No.10 about it late last night. Sources told me that Amber Rudd would indeed be confirmed today as the new occupant of the post.

Equalities returns to the Home Office, which is where it was from 2010 to 2012 under another Home Secretary, one Theresa May. It’s another significant vote of confidence in Rudd. But it was still strange that the announcement wasn’t made yesterday. There was a risk that, as with David Cameron seeming to ‘forget’ about the job when Nicky Morgan was first appointed, it looked like an afterthought. In the wake of the Westminster sex allegations, and the Toby Young fiasco, the job is more important than ever. And so is Rudd.

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