Why the Tories’ 48-year-old new youth spokesman is more than a joke

A reshuffle of junior government jobs has revealed the government’s failure to win back Brexit rebels. 

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Life, so the old cliche goes, begins at 40. The Tory leadership appears to have taken it literally, having appointed 48-year-old Mid Worcestershire MP Nigel Huddleston as their new vice-chair for youth in a minor reshuffle of junior government jobs this afternoon.

Huddleston replaces actual millennial Tom Pursglove, a longstanding Brexit ultra who was appointed last summer at 29 before resigning to vote against the withdrawal agreement last month. Pursglove himself replaced Ben Bradley, 28, who quit in protest at Theresa May’s Chequers proposals for a soft Brexit.

There is obvious and low-hanging comedy value in Huddleston’s appointment. He is almost twice the maximum age for the youth wing he is now responsible for, which is more reliable as a source of embarrassment for the Tories than it is campaigning firepower. As metaphors for the success of its attempts to build support among young voters go, it is hard to beat. That the government cannot even find a millennial MP to take this gig attests to the abject division of its 2015 and 2017 intakes on Brexit and says much about their chances in the country.

Just as important than Huddleston’s age is his CV. He has not been plucked from the backbenches but promoted from another junior position: parliamentary private secretary to Jeremy Wright, the culture secretary. The same is true of today’s other moves: Bim Afolami, one of the stars of the 2017 intake, has been promoted from PPS at the Department for Transport to PPS to Penny Mordaunt, while Leo Docherty moves from the Ministry of Housing to replace Huddleston.

Shuffling MPs who are already on the government payroll does nothing to grow the number of votes Theresa May can depend on as a matter of course. That nobody who voted against her Brexit deal has been brought back into the tent reflects the fact that not even government patronage – and in the case of Huddleston’s new job, a £10,000 salary – can convince opponents of the withdrawal agreement to abandon their objections. The only inducements it can offer have already been thoroughly devalued by resignations. If she is to win back her party before the next meaningful vote, Theresa May will need to offer the sort of substantive change to the deal that is as good as impossible to offer.

Patrick Maguire is the New Statesman's political correspondent.