The catastrophic press about Theresa May’s reshuffle said it all. Not even a year since the miserable general election result and May began 2018 with a much hyped but disappointingly received Cabinet reshuffle. It started badly when a wrong appointment was announced by the Conservatives’ Twitter account. Four ministers spent a long time inside Downing Street, indicating negotiations were being conducted. Many commented this was a challenge to May’s authority, unfortunately, carried out in the public eye. The court of public opinion continued about Education Secretary Justine Greening’s resignation after not accepting the post of Work and Pensions, and the mysterious sidestepping of Jo Johnson, a big supporter of India, from Universities, Science, Research and Innovation to Transport. There ensued a furious debate, provoked by the PM’s former adviser Nick Timothy, who wrote in the Telegraph that Greening and Johnson “refused to back a wide-ranging review which could have allowed institutions to charge different fees in a bid to increase competition”. This led to questions on the extent of Timothy’s influence on the PM.
The better news was Brandon Lewis, Immigration Minister, was announced as new Party Chairman with the popular James Cleverly, MP as his deputy; Cleverly and the other Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic appointments to the party, Helen Grant, Kemi Badenoch and Rehman Chishti as vice-chairmen, also Nadim Zahawi’s excellent appointment at the Department of Education, herald May’s increased commitment to diversity. Maria Caulfield, new Vice-Chairman for Women, and Ester McVey, new Secretary of State, Work and Pensions, are likely to become Labour’s new targets—Caulfield for her pro-life views, while McVey is blamed for reforming disability benefits.
Brandon’s remit is to reboot Conservative party membership, which is said to be ailing, in a survey conducted by Queen Mary University of London. The survey delivers “an insight into their (party members) ideas and their priorities…and a sense of what members do for their parties at election time, how they see candidate selection, and their impressions of, and their satisfaction with, the organizations they’ve joined”. It revealed existing Conservative members’ views on Brexiting. Economic, social and moral issues are relatively unchanged and have not moved towards May’s progressive Manifesto of June 2017—the same progressive ideas still divide the present Conservative party. The results show that folks join parties to support polices or to oppose rivals’ policies. The Tory party has “members”, while the Labour party has “activists”. It is not difficult to witness who is more active. The survey reported that “Tory grassroots members did less on almost every count than their counterparts in other parties” and the Tory party fell down on communications, which points to poor performance from local Conservative Associations as well as the party, with both needing to be more active on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. There is a vast difference between local Conservative Associations across the UK, in terms of number of members, management efficacy and performance. Presently, Associations are not required to divulge any information to the Centre, it is expected that Lewis will endeavour to centralise the lists and encourage transparency.
On Thursday, May gave a green speech in ecologist MP Zac Goldsmith’s Barnes constituency, to promote the more caring side of Conservatism. She declared her environmental ideas matched with literary examples, followed by the imperative of conservation married to industrial and economic growth, the introduction of a 2018 London Conference on the Illegal Wildlife Trade and improvements to animal welfare in general, the creation of a 62,000 acre Northern Forest with a plan for young people from deprived backgrounds to spend time in a natural environment and a war on plastic pollution, starting with a 5p charge for using a plastic bag. The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in April will push for a reduction of plastic waste in the oceans. British development spending will help developing nations reduce plastic and establish Blue Belt protections in overseas territories. May concluded, saying her 25-year comprehensive environment plan would protect and renew Britain’s natural inheritance for the next generation.
All these environmental aspirations are good news and even better if some were realised before 2043. But election-wise they might have been better placed in the 2017 Manifesto. And so it is hoped they will resonate with Blue Planet viewers, the new generation of potential members and younger voters.
After such a shambolic beginning, May needs to convince Tories in Parliament and across the country that she is fit for leadership and fit to Brexit.