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9 January 2018

Theresa May’s latest misfortune shows she’s an obstacle to the Tories’ wider revival

With three Cabinet ministers refusing to move, the reshuffle failed to have its desired effect of demonstrating the Prime Minister’s strength.

By Stephen Bush

Theresa May must be beginning to regret breaking all those mirrors after another setpiece event, designed to demonstrate her strength, instead collapsed into farce and weakness.

The day started with the accidental announcement on the Conservatives’ Twitter page that Chris Grayling was to be appointed as CCHQ chair, and ended with not one, but three Cabinet ministers refusing to give way. Jeremy Hunt and Greg Clark remained in their posts, while Justine Greening refused to move sideways from Education to the DWP and opted for the backbenches instead.

But as with the letters falling down after her speech, the PM’s bad luck is, in fact, a form of good fortune. May’s “Plan A” for the refreshed Cabinet was the same old faces, minus Patrick McLoughlin and plus Damian Hinds and Brandon Lewis.

The likes of Dominic Raab, Sam Gyimah, Rory Stewart or Clare Perry, who, from very different parts of the party might give the Conservatives a different outlet in 2022, all remain in junior posts, though Perry has the right to attend Cabinet in order to give the government a semi-positive headline that more women are sitting round the table than before.

There is a new and exciting generation of MPs appointed to the nebulous post of Conservative vice-chair, but while that increases the number of non-traditional advocates the party can push forward for broadcast, it doesn’t actually give any of those MPs the experience they need to push on up the ministerial ladder.

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There were a number of problems with the reshuffle, from today’s bad headlines, to the loss of one of the more capable Secretaries of State in Justine Greening. But the biggest failure can be summed up in a simple question: who are the fresh set of candidates who could plausibly run for the highest office this morning who couldn’t yesterday?

And that’s where May’s good fortune comes into play. She’s still seen, just about, as an unlucky leader who at worst will simply be an uncomfortable pause between two eras of Tory success. But what yesterday ought to remind the Conservative Party is that May isn’t an interregnum, but an obstacle to any wider revival.