Theresa May’s lamentable reshuffle proves she is not fit to govern

Brian Monteith
So stupendously incompetent has it been that Armando Iannucci could not have bettered it as an episode of The Thick Of It (Source: Getty)

If asked, I wager most people would say that John Cleese became rich and famous because of his role in the great British comedy ensemble that was Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

This is only partly correct, for that is not how he started to make decent money. It was the training videos that he made for businesses that really brought in the lolly – those entertaining but highly instructive sketches on how not to conduct meetings and the like.

They pointed out, with a typical hilarious flair, all the regular failings that so damaged British business in the seventies, and how to avoid them.

Read more: DEBATE: Was Theresa May’s cabinet reshuffle a good move?

Well, John, your country needs you to do it a service once again, for we have a Prime Minister who does not know how to lead and how to govern – as evidenced by this week’s lamentable cabinet reshuffle.

So chaotic, so stupendously incompetent has it been that Armando Iannucci could not have bettered it as an episode of “The Thick Of It”.

We have had ministers humiliated like schoolboys waiting to be given the cane as they sat in the corridors of Downing Street for hours to hear of their fate.

Behind the closed doors and out of earshot, the initial plan has been to sack the unloyal or incompetent politician and bring a replacement that will demonstrate the Prime Minister can exercise real power and show guile, cunning and initiative.

Then it goes all wrong. Someone else will not move without causing a hissy-fit or promising to scream and scream from the backbenches (while also briefing anonymously about past indiscretions of cabinet colleagues).

Like a housing chain that breaks down because one sale is not completed, the unfortunate minister sitting outside contemplating a roasting can no longer be sacked, but is brought in to be told he or she is in fact going to be promoted because they have been so good at their job in the Department for Sloth and Ineptitude.

Tweets are issued that are inaccurate. Media statements are circulated that have spelling errors. The opportunity that the new year provided for a revival of the government’s reputation is squandered. Not so much a restoration as a restoration comedy.

After much briefing behind the scenes of what the media should expect, with changes to the gender balance and more minority representation, media expectations were high. Yet the prospect of change has always been illusory, for it ignored the big beasts everyone will focus on – and they have all been spared walking the plank (no matter how much some deserved it).

We have all been left underwhelmed by Theresa May’s unwillingness or inability to risk moving (in no particular order) foreign secretary Boris Johnson, chancellor Philip Hammond, home secretary Amber Rudd, and Brexit secretary David Davis.

Instead of a spiced-up cabinet, we got a government in aspic. And instead of denying the growing perception that the Prime Minister is weak, the reshuffle has confirmed it.

Not all the incoherence came from Theresa May, however. The education secretary Justine Greening – who has portrayed herself as caring deeply about social mobility – refused the Prime Minister’s offer of leading the Department of Work and Pensions, where she would have enjoyed the power to make the biggest difference to social mobility imaginable. Even Iannucci would have struggled to work that into the plot.

John Major’s government was characterised by scandals and weakness – growing more and more out of touch with the British public by the day. Despite that, the UK economy recovered from Black Wednesday. It showed how the economy can still thrive despite an ineffective government.

Now we have a Prime Minister who faces the greatest challenge of our times in handling the Brexit negotiations – and yet, just like Major, is constantly open to ridicule and criticism.

Only this time, it is not Tony Blair and Gordon Brown who are waiting in the wings, but Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell. The stakes for our economic prosperity could not be higher.

Once a junior minister proves able and up to the job, there will undoubtedly be some good ministerial moves that later in hindsight we might applaud – but that is for the future. What is important is that the government has started the year badly.

Maybe the best that can be said of this latest episode in May’s tenure at 10 Downing Street is that things can only get better.

Alternatively, as Malcolm Tucker might say, “Aye, (insert favourite expletive) right!”

Read more: Pound down against dollar and euro in wake of May's reshuffle chaos

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