May's reshuffle could offer more than fresh faces

Christian May
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The Prime Minister Holds A Cabinet Meeting At Chequers
Theresa May will be starting the year with a reshuffle (Source: Getty)

Parliament returns today after its Christmas break and the Prime Minister will attempt to regain the initiative by reshuffling her Cabinet.

Some call it a relaunch or a rebranding, but for May it's a roll of the dice and a chance to present a fresh face on the first day back at school.

Not long ago, the PM was labelled too weak to reshuffle, so will today's new appointments be a sign of strength? Up to a point, yes. With a slim majority and a divided party, change is not without risk and May can't afford too many bruised egos limping off to the backbenches.

It is little surprise, therefore, that the likes of Philip Hammond, David Davis and Boris Johnson are tipped to retain their roles. The focus seems likely to be on removing “dead wood” - an unfortunate term for the likes of Patrick McLoughlin, the party chairman who may have to take the fall for the election disaster despite being a respected and competent veteran of Tory cabinets.

Read more: Theresa May confirms that a cabinet reshuffle is coming "soon"

Likewise Greg Clark, the business secretary, is rumoured to be replaced. He may not be setting Westminster alight but he's a thoughtful, intelligent and popular figure. A flurry of excitement may come in the form of fresh, younger talent – with a number of the more recent intake being lined up for promotion.

This is where things could get interesting. In addition to giving the government a makeover, many of the younger generation of Tory MPs are brimming with ideas. The Free Enterprise Group of MPs, for example, have been honing their policy credentials on the free-market think-tank circuit for several years and other MPs have clubbed together under the banner of Onward, a collection of modernising thinkers associated with the Cameron/Osborne era and committed to carrying the flag of social liberalism and economic reform.

Read more: Infrastructure chief Lord Adonis quits post over May's handling of Brexit

Ultimately, ideas matter more than faces when it comes to rejuvenating the Tory offering and preparing it for an election against a buoyant and confident Labour party. An effective reshuffle could allow the government to expand its energies beyond Brexit while at the same time countering the creeping sense of drift that hangs over Whitehall.

The Tory ranks contain plenty of untapped talent. Time to unleash it.

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