Our political editor WALTER CRONXITE reports on a clusterfuck of a cabinet reshuffle which had finger prints from a couple of Croydon notables all over it
Ever since they were reunited as a team at No10 Downing Street, the dynamic duo of Gavin Barwell and Mario Creatura, self-proclaimed as a kind of Batman and Robin team, have been waiting for their chance to shine.
Yesterday’s shambles and fiasco of a cabinet reshuffle by Prime Minister Theresa May demonstrated that as far as Batman and Robin are concerned, ex-MP Barwell and ex-MP’s assistant Creatura are definitely more of the Del Boy and Rodney kind.
May’s Special Adviser for Twitter, Creatura, had just one job, to get the message out there of the changes that were going on in the government’s inner circle. It was not long before even that straightforward task started to go… well, twits up.The No10 Twitter account description of Brandon Lewis’s appointment as Tory Party chairman and “Minister without Porfolio”, lacking a “t”, soon had lobby journalists recalling the letters which fell off the stage backdrop during May’s calamitous Tory party conference speech.
The typing error just added to Downing Street’s woes, after someone in Conservative Central Office had earlier tweeted congratulations to Chris Grayling on his appointment as Tory chairman – a position which he held for all of 27 seconds, before someone deleted the erroneous social media message.
Even Peter Walker of The Grauniad, for goodness sake, a newspaper once celebrated for its typos, was able to write, “Reshuffle chaos latest: after Chris Grayling error, No10 tweets that Brandon Lewis is new party chair, then deletes and tweets again after they spell ‘minister without portfolio’ as ‘porfolio’.”
What followed during a day described as the “night of the blunt knives” was a succession of templated tweets which just seemed to emphasise the plodding nature of a reshuffle process that ran into trouble from the start, as May tried, and repeatedly failed, to allocate ministers to new jobs.
The reshuffle had the hallmarks of being inspired by May’s Chief of Staff, Barwell – well-meaning with a feeble hint of inclusivity, but a project doomed to failure in its misjudgement of the weakness of the PM’s ability to pull off a reshuffle on her own terms.
The picture of what the Tories described as its party vice-chairmen (nine of them, no less), the new party chairman (not Chris Grayling) and a new deputy chairman on the steps of 10 Downing Street went well enough, with its message of some diversity in the ranks with four BME members. These include the former Purley Way family law solicitor and Labour supporter Helen Grant (second left in the picture above).
There was negative comment about Maria Caulfield’s appointment as vice-chairman for women, with the British Pregnancy Advice Service saying they were “disappointed to hear that Maria Caulfield MP, who supports the criminalisation of women who end their own pregnancies” got that job.
Today, the desperate spinning about the “success” of the efforts continued, with the Torygraph reporting “a senior Tory source” – Barwell, possibly? – saying that “by the end of the day between 25 per cent and 30 per cent of ministers will be women and the number of black and minority ethnic ministers will double”.
But this was still a long way from the radical redesign of the government that had been promised. As ministers felt able to resist the detail of the Barwell reshuffle, in turn, the Prime Minister was left to look ever weaker.
That Justine Greening spent three hours inside No10 to refuse to take a sideways move to handle the Department for Work and Pensions before eventually exiting having lost her own job as education secretary – and thereby reducing the number of women in the cabinet – went a long way to encapsulate the ineffectualness of the Prime Minister, and Barwell as a chief adviser.
The BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg reported a senior Tory as seeing the misjudged reshuffle as emphasising May’s vulnerable position (while also demonstrating Twitter’s vulnerability to spelling errors): “Senior Tory MP says ‘this resfhuffle [sic] is embarrassing- far from asserting her authority …its just highlighted how weak the PM is’.”
Other political pundits were quick to point out the error by Team Croydon. A Guido Fawkes journalist quoted another former minister, “Former minister: ‘She should have listened to Gavin W rather than Gavin B’,” the reference to Gavin W being the somewhat self-regarding Defence Minister, the former Tory chief whip and tarantula keeper Gavin Williamson.
Isabel Hardman of the right-wing Spectator quoted another Tory MP as seeing the apparently poor strategy being driven by an intent to conspire against May. She wrote, “Tory MP: ‘worst reshuffle I have ever witnessed in any party ever. None of it makes sense. It’s sabotage. I think someone’s trying to destroy her on the inside. I can’t think of a less dramatic reason!’.”
Of course, anyone who endured nearly seven years of Barwell when he was MP for Croydon Central will know that the notion that they might be deliberately sabotaging the Prime Minister is far-fetched. It’s well-beyond his abilities. Barwell is the living embodiment of the edict that usually, the most likely explanation when something goes awry is cock-up, rather than conspiracy theory.
More Del Boy, in fact, than Batman.
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