Theresa May suffered blow after blow to her authority this week.
Her reshuffle of cabinet members was pitched as a “relaunch” after a bruising 2017 when she lost three cabinet ministers in the space of three months.
Monday ended with a fourth cabinet minister resigning.
May offered education secretary Justine Greening a move to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). Greening resigned instead.
Some ministers who May tried to move simply refused to go—such as health secretary Jeremy Hunt.
May had backed Toby Young’s appointment to the Office for Students in the face of a wave of criticism, including from right wingers. But the odious bigot and free school fanatic jumped ship on Tuesday.
May did not have the power to get rid of her main rivals within the cabinet. Foreign secretary Boris Johnson is using Brexit to undermine May, but she couldn’t attempt to sack him.
In 1962 Tory prime minister Harold Macmillan sacked seven cabinet members in what became known as the “night of the long knives”.
Journalists dubbed May’s reshuffle as the “night of the blunt knives” and the “night of the plastic forks”.
Farce aside, May isn’t simply plagued by incompetence. Real divisions underlie her difficulties.
The Tories are still reeling from their disastrous general election result—and are torn by the demands of big business and bigotry.
Their friends in the City of London and big business want to remain in the European Union’s (EU) single market because it protects their profits.
They have the ear of chancellor Philip Hammond, who favours a “softer Brexit”.
At the same time the Tories want to pull people’s anger in a racist direction by promising to dump free movement for European migrants. They know that there is real anger within society at austerity and deep-rooted inequality.
They have stepped back from getting rid of May because there is no obvious alternative, despite the election disaster.
But, as the Tories run up against the reality of the EU’s bullyboy negotiating tactics, these divisions can only get worse.
The reshuffle entrenched the Brexit divisions between Hammond and Johnson.
And Greening, who is an ardent supporter of the single market, is likely be a key part of any backbench Remain rebellion.
The Tories are a zombie government, but they won’t all just keel over. It is no good for the union leaders to wait for a Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour government—we have to force them out of office.
That means building resistance to every Tory attack on working class people—and their attempts to divide us with racism.
And the left has to put forward a socialist, anti-racist alternative vision of Brexit. A fightback can force the Tories to shuffle off.
David Lidington will have all the work of the prime minister’s former deputy Damian Green—apart from the title First Secretary of State.
Having tried his hand at brutalising prisoners, May hopes he can keep the Tory benches in check.
As justice secretary, Lidington began a trial of pepper spray Pava at four prisons last October. It was linked to 26 deaths in custody in the US.
He is replaced by David Gauke, former work and pensions secretary responsible for pushing through Universal Credit.
Brandon Lewis replaces Sir Patrick McLoughlin as Tory party chair. Perhaps he wasn’t first choice. Conservative Central HQ (CCHQ) tweeted a picture congratulating Chris Grayling on becoming party chairman. The tweet was quickly deleted.
Lewis is the man who in 2014 insisted that building developers should not have to fit sprinklers in high rise buildings. This climate of deregulation caused the tragedy at Grenfell Tower.
Justine Greening’s replacement claims that he’s passionate about improving social mobility for working class children.
But as a junior work and pensions minister, Hinds’ job was to push through the brutal regime that entrenches inequality and poverty.
He reacted to concerns about Universal Credit by saying people should stop relying on benefits and get a job.
“In the run-up to Christmas, when many temporary work opportunities are available, Universal Credit works much better for people, because they are able to access those opportunities,” he said.
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