I’ve just returned from watching Darkest Hour, about a headstrong Prime Minister hampered by his Cabinet’s obstinance and desire to rid themselves of their leader in a time of desperate national crisis, when they should be rallying for victory. You’d be forgiven if you thought I had just watched this week’s PMQs. This ‘omnishambles’ reshuffle was like watching an episode of the Apprentice 20 years in the future, where a liberal Lord Sugar hired everyone, afraid of hurting the feelings of the snowflakes arguing in his boardroom.
The root and branch reform of CCHQ may be the single ray of sunshine in this dismal week of political dismay. Having trailed Labour by 47 per cent among those under 25 in the 2017 general election – ultimately denying the Conservatives a majority – the cream of the 2015 intake, including the highly regarded Deputy Chairman James Cleverly and the Vice Chair for Youth, Ben Bradley, will have a tough time trying to revitalise the party’s fortunes among younger voters. In the days when Momentum are mobilising some 200000 supporters for canvassing and campaigning, the Conservatives can no longer idly ignore this demographic if they want to win in 2022; rebuilding the youth wing of the party – shut down in 2015 following the tragic death of young Tory activist Eliott Johnson – should be imperative to any future election strategy. This must also be backed up by policies, such as those being pumped out of Michael Gove’s DEFRA, and where input from fresh talent across the party may help to recapture the youth vote.
For the Cabinet reshuffle, however, it may be more pertinent to indulge in a little Kremlinology. The Frank Underwood-esque Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson seems yet again to have exerted his influence over Ms May. Despite the talk of fresh talent being drawn into the Cabinet (with possibly even some faces from the 2015 intake), many ministers have either been simply moved or allowed to stay in place, with some uninspired firings like Justine Greening and Patrick McLoughlin. Whispers abound in Westminster that Williamson and May deliberately kept fresh faces at lower level ministerial posts in order for there to be no viable rival for the Defence Secretary when he seeks the leadership himself in a 2019 contest. While this is far from confirmed, Williamson has shown himself to be a ruthless political operator in the past; the leak that sunk the career of previous Defense Secretary, Michael Fallon originated from the Whip’s Office, the post held by Williamson at the time. The Defence Secretary is also the closest thing there is to a “Mayite”, having been one of the first to support her leadership campaign, and having made himself indispensable to her since the start of her premiership.
It is the first time since the election that Ms May has looked so desperately weak. Despite asking Jeremy Hunt to become Business Secretary, she instead expanded his current role, a move surely unprecedented in modern history. While it is eminently sensible to have Health and Social Care coordinated from Richmond House, for the Prime Minister to not only have been rebuked but also forced to hand out a promotion is surely all the evidence her enemies need to suggest that she is well and truly finished, gone by the end of Article 50. The departure of Damian Green means that she now has few friends in the Cabinet. It is very possible that Hunt – seen giving animated performances at Christmas Dinner parties, including one hosted by Michael Gove – is positioning himself for the leadership, threatening to resign from the government and trigger a contest.
In the Machiavellian maze of Westminster, it is no wonder that as the enemy tanks pen her in on all sides, Ms May is looking for any soul, no matter how untrustworthy, for an amphibious evacuation.