Theresa May’s treatment of Justine Greening makes no sense at all

The Prime Minister’s addiction to self-inflicted wounds is getting stronger. 

NS

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What’s an ideal Secretary of State look like? I suppose the first thing they would do is drive through big reforms: perhaps by opening 55 new free schools during their term of office and beginning the opening of many more. They could, while they were at it, drive through the creation of a new regulatory body for universities, too. They could be in post during the first real-terms decrease in spending on schools in the modern era and do all this while not becoming a hate figure with parents, teachers, academics, or the teaching unions.

You don’t have to agree with all or any of these achievements to accept that, as far as the model Conservative Secretary of State for Education goes, it is hard to see how Theresa May is going to find something better than Justine Greening.

Then remember that Greening is a Remainer who represents one of the most pro-Remain constituencies in the country and in possession of a gossamer-thin majority after the defection of many pro-Remain Conservatives to other parties, and that taking away a job she enjoyed was always going to give her licence to quit the Cabinet entirely and throw all her energies into saving her seat, and it is hard to see the upside from Theresa May’s perspective.

Then Downing Street salted the wound by briefing against her, which can only have contributed to her decision to walk out, which means that Esther McVey, the new Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, starts as a high-profile second choice pick. Added to that, it means that we know that, absent the unexpected resignation of of James Brokenshire, May’s plan for a “refreshed” Conservative Party meant just two people: Brandon Lewis and Damian Hinds, neither of which exactly screams “fresh start”.

It is increasingly hard not to suspect that Theresa May is a particularly well-placed Labour mole who has succeeded well beyond her handlers’ wildest dreams.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman and the PSA's Journalist of the Year. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.