With the winter crisis engulfing our NHS, the living standards of hard-working people continuing to fall and Brexit plans in disarray, Monday’s alleged reshuffling has served as little more than an unnecessary distraction from the Tories’ dismal record in government.
After a New Year period which saw dramatic rail fares rises, thousands of operations cancelled and Theresa May finally give up on her plan to bring back fox hunting, the Tories had built up the reshuffle as a day when they would press reset on their continuing downward spiral and when Theresa May would finally show us who’s in charge. But when it came down to it, this was little more than a clumsy reshuffling of deckchairs.
The day started with the Tories’ Twitter account farcically announcing that Chris Grayling was to be made Party Chairman. This was frantically deleted, just in time to stop a wave of Tory voices rising up in protest at his appointment. Adding to the Tories’ IT woes, the Conservative website then went offline – an appropriate metaphor for a Government that seems to have switched off from governing the country.
After the Chris Grayling debacle, Brandon Lewis was eventually confirmed as the new Conservative Party Chair. As the person who once suggested that the Conservatives should use Disney’s language as a template for communicating their message, his appointment will suit a government stuck in fantasy land. James Cleverly was also appointed as his deputy. He has previously called for a “cap on donations” and thinks that the Tories are “too reliant on a small number of donors”. After last week’s news that the Tories received almost £13 million from just 64 individuals, it seems he’ll have his work cut out for him.
Adding to the Tories’ woes, the Conservative website then went offline – an appropriate metaphor for a Government that seems to have switched off from governing the country
In a deeply worrying move, May appointed Maria Caulfield as Vice Chair for Women in struggling Tory HQ. Caulfield led the parliamentary opposition to my colleague Diana Johnson’s Bill that aimed to protect women and decriminalise abortion, instead choosing to defend the current law, which threatens life imprisonment to women who end their own pregnancy.
We also had the news that David Lidington was to move from the Ministry of Justice to the Cabinet Office. At a time when we need to get a grip on the worsening crisis in our prisons, it is truly astonishing that we are now going to have a fourth Justice Secretary in just 18 months.
Of course the other not-so-big news is that Jeremy Hunt has had social care added to his title, while Sajid Javid has had Housing added to the name of his department. Although greater focus on social care and housing from this government is long overdue, it takes more than arbitrarily adding a word to enact the real change those areas desperately need.
The Tories have started 2018 with a waste of time reshuffle. It might be a new year, but it’s the same old Tories. The only way to truly reset the direction this country is heading is with a Labour Government that would build a society in the interests of the many, not the few.
Ian Lavery is chair of the Labour Party and MP for Wansbeck