Theresa May’s Cabinet Cull: “Not a Reshuffle but a New Government”

It is near impossible for any new prime minister, taking over government after a period in office, to escape its past sins. Ask Gordon Brown or John Major. However, Theresa May is giving it her best shot. This was a cabinet billed not as a reshuffle but a new government.

To underline the point George Osborne was cut from the government. Politics is brutal. Osborne seemed to be hoping to stay as chancellor or move to the Foreign Office, but his dismissal is not a surprise: his blunders were far more memorable than his supposed brilliance, whether it was his Google tax deal or two omnishambles budgets. May’s leadership economic and industrial pitch was a criticism of the chancellor. Osborne had to go. His indivisible association with the ancien regime and his strong support for Remain were the two last, delicious nails. State-educated, dry as dust Philip Hammond takes over. He handled the treasury and work and pensions briefs in opposition then Transport, Defence and Foreign Affairs since his appointment to Cabinet in 2010. This will not be the only article to call him a safe pair of hands. Now we wait to see if he scraps the planned tax credit cuts Osborne postponed to later in the parliament.

May’s other first appointments were designed to reassure sceptics that Brexit really does mean Brexit: Liam Fox and David Davis, both on the traditional right, return from a Cameroon exile to take over the new departments of International Trade and Brexit. They are not appointments to cheer the 48% but they are not designed to. In the last of the Brexit appointments, Boris Johnson becomes Foreign Secretary. It is a choice that will leave many staggered. The reaction from the chancelleries of Europe and the Obama administration has been negative. One foreign minister has already branded him a liar.

Brexiteers will not have the luxury of impossibilism

These appointments are a shift to the party’s right. That leadership contender Andrea Leadsom is not among these appointments shows May’s confidence. May does not seem in a rush to trigger Article 50. Her Brexit team gives her space and trust but a “Brexit in name only deal” is definitely off the table. May’s is a clear strategy to allow Brexiteers to own the referendum result. After the lack of scrutiny during the referendum campaign, Leavers will have to start making tough choices and endure inevitable disappointments. From the inside Brexiteers will not have the luxury of impossibilism.

Amber Rudd’s appointment as Home Secretary means that for the first time the four big jobs in government have an even gender split. Famously Rudd served as the “aristocracy co-ordinator” on Four Weddings and a Funeral. Elected in 2010 hers has been a meteoric rise. It gives a big promotion (Rudd only joined the Cabinet as energy minister in 2015) to an effective communicator and prominent Remainer who took on Johnson in debate. That first Cabinet will be interesting.

Cameroons joining George Osborne on the backbenches were Michael Gove, Oliver Letwin and Nicky Morgan. Theresa Villiers refused another position and stepped down as Ulster Secretary; Stephen Crabb resigned for family reasons;  Lord Feldman, another Cameron ally, was sacked as party chairman and replaced by Patrick McLoughlin, who had been Transport Secretary. Culture Secretary John Whittingdale was also dismissed.

Gove, who clashed with May when she was Home Secretary, was until his (first) Brexit betrayal a key member of Cameron’s inner team. His replacement is Liz Truss who moves up from Environment and becomes Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor. In his fifteen months at Justice, Gove had gone some way to rehabilitating himself. Truss recieved a cautious welcome from The Howard League for Penal Reform. Justine Greening takes over as education secretary - the first to attend a comprehensive school - and the equalities brief after a long stint at International Development. Her department takes the higher education and skills responsibilities which Gordon Brown gave to Business in 2009 - ironically creating Gove’s dream of a “proper” education department.

Only four Cabinet ministers remained in place; there are eight women; seven supported Brexit

Underlining her commitment to security Michael Fallon was kept at defence. Despite rumours (and some hope?) Jeremy Hunt remained Health Secretary, making him one of the great - and inexplicable - survivors of Tory politics: he survived the phone-hacking scandal in 2012 when he was culture secretary and presided over a major strike of junior doctors. Andrea Leadsom takes over at Environment where the Brexiteer will have to deal with farmers, a group promised they would not lose out. Priti Patel, who once wanted to abolish it, is promoted to full Cabinet at DfID. Damien Lewis, who worked under May at the Home Office until sacked in 2014, returns as Work and Pension Secretary; others from May’s Home Office include in the Cabinet were Karen Bradley (Culture) and James Brokenshire (Northern Ireland). Greg Clark goes to Business, Energy and (a Bennite) Industrial Strategy and Sajid Javid to Communities in a simple swap.

So there it is. Theresa May’s new government. Only four Cabinet ministers remained in place; there are eight women; seven supported Brexit. It is a risky but revealing strategy. Her party has a majority of 12; there are now a lot of former minister on the backbenches who could make trouble for her. Many of her moves are designed to rid the party of its privileged image. Rarely has a reshuffle been conducted with so little thought to the opposition party: Labour is irrelevant. Her cull of the Cameroons has left many shocked. But Brexiteers have been treated equally ruthlessly. Those who have seen Theresa May as a cautious leader have mistaken preparation for dullness.

As the body count rose, the BBC’s Norman Smith cried out to the new prime minister, “It’s a brutal reshuffle, isn’t it?” She smiled.

The full list of appointments is here.

More about the author

About the author

Educated at Durham University and UCL, Graham is Disclaimer's editor and a regular contributor. He has written for numerous publications including Tribune, Out Magazine and Vice. He has also contributed to two books of political counterfactuals for Biteback Media, Prime Minister Boris (2011) and Prime Minister Corbyn (2016).

A democratic republican lefty, he struggles daily with the conflict between his ingrained senses of idealism and pragmatism.

Follow Graham on Twitter.

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