Tuesday, May 28

Tory chairman defends Theresa May’s botched reshuffle



Brandon Lewis, who is charged with overhauling the Conservative party’s organisation, insisted May was in control and had succeeded in bringing in new talent.

He named Matt Hancock, the new culture secretary, Damian Hinds, the new education secretary, Caroline Nokes, an immigration minister and Claire Perry, a business minister, as signs that fresh faces would be seen around the cabinet table.

However, the prime minister’s attempt to stamp her authority on her party was overshadowed by the botched changes at cabinet level, in which Jeremy Hunt refused to give up his job as health secretary and Greening refused to take the role of work and pensions secretary.

Lewis told the BBC’s Today programme: In a reshuffle, personalities, people, roles do change. It is a shame to lose people like Justine Greening but she made very clear she wanted to focus on social mobility. The PM was very clear she wanted to change things around and get new people into the cabinet.

But he dodged the question of why May had wanted to move Greening, who was infuriated by negative briefing from the government about how she was set to lose her job in the reshuffle.

The reshuffle will continue on Tuesday with the appointment of junior ministers, with more women and people from ethnic minority backgrounds expected to be promoted.

Lewis said there were already more women around the top table than before. But in reality, the gender balance in the cabinet remained the same, as May was forced to bolster the number of female ministers on her team by allowing two more to attend cabinet with less than full status and remuneration.

Asked whether the Conservative party was in a mess, Lewis replied not quite but was unable to say how many members it now had.

The difficulties started for May when the Conservatives’ official Twitter feed wrongly congratulated Chris Grayling for becoming party chair. In fact, Patrick McLoughlin was replaced by Lewis, the Great Yarmouth MP, and Grayling remained as transport secretary.

The chaos intensified when Hunt rejected a new position as business secretary and instead persuaded the prime minister to allow him to remain at health in a beefed-up role taking on responsibility for social care.

That meant that a planned move for Greg Clark did not go ahead, and he instead remained at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

Greening then spent more than two hours inside No 10 before refusing to take up a role at the Department for Work and Pensions and being removed as education secretary.

The Putney MP’s resistance followed days of newspaper reports suggesting she was facing the sack. A government source said: Justine was offered DWP but declined to take it. The prime minister is disappointed but respects her decision to leave government.

Greening, who is seen as on the modernising wing of the Conservative party, was praised by the party’s leader in Scotland, Ruth Davidson, and backbencher Heidi Allen.

Allen said she was “bitterly disappointed” for her colleague, adding: A dreadful shame we have lost such a progressive, listening, compassionate woman from government.

Another Tory MP, speaking anonymously, told the Guardian it was a dreadful error to let her go, adding: May gives in to the boys but effectively sacks a woman born and raised in Rotherham, who went to the local comprehensive, who is bright and more than able, and who won a marginal seat beating Labour oh, and she happens to be in a same-sex relationship.

According to allies, Greening wanted to remain in position, focusing on young people, rather than take up her fourth secretary of state role. She tweeted that it had been an honour and privilege to serve since 2010 and would continue focusing on equality of opportunity for young people. Greening was replaced by Hinds as education secretary, while Esther McVey was named work and pensions secretary.

Other key moves included Hancock taking over at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport; Karen Bradley moving to the Northern Ireland Office; and David Gauke becoming justice secretary.

That role was vacated by David Lidington, who is taking over in the Cabinet Office, replacing Damian Green who was forced to resign for failing to tell the truth about pornography found on his work computer.