Theresa May’s much-heralded cabinet reshuffle swiftly turned into a metaphor for her administration. Following last year’s disastrous general election, the role of Tory chairman was seen as pivotal. The Conservative Twitter account sent a photo of the supposed new appointee with the message: “Congratulations to Chris Grayling following his appointment as Conservative party chairman.” However, this message was then deleted, as it emerged that Brandon Lewis, the former immigration minister, had got the post instead. What a shambles.
And it got worse. Home Secretary Amber Rudd, Chancellor Philip Hammond, Brexit Secretary David Davis and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson stayed in their jobs despite a grim catalogue of error involving their respective Departments, while Jeremy Hunt, who had been widely touted for a move, remains in his job, which has been renamed Secretary of State for Health and Social Care. Also not moving is Communities Secretary Sajid Javid, but the word ‘housing’ has been added to the title of his department.
Justice Secretary David Lidington was moved to the Cabinet Office and will deputise for Mrs May at PMQs. He was succeeded by David Gauke – who is switching from work and pensions, where his responsibilities included the shambolic roll-out of Universal Credit. Another example of failure being rewarded with promotion.
Former Education Secretary Justine Greening resigned after refusing a job as Work and Pensions Secretary. That came less than a month after she launched the government’s social mobility strategy. In her resignation statement she said: “Social mobility matters to me and our country more than a ministerial career.” Such honesty is almost unique in the present Tory line-up. She was replaced by Damian Hinds, while Esther McVey was promoted to head work and pensions.
Labour said Mrs May should focus on the pressures in the NHS. Jeremy Corbyn said: “The government’s big plan for the new year is to dodge the real issues and reshuffle the pack in a pointless and lacklustre PR exercise. It’s simply not good enough. You can’t make up for nearly eight years of failure by changing the name of a department.”
Mrs May, after last year’s disastrous general election and the pre-Christmas resignation of three Cabinet ministers, had an opportunity to at least appear to give a new direction to her discredited government. Instead we got more of the same, which does not bode well for the year ahead.
As the NHS limped into its 70th anniversary year, it was crystal clear how over seven years of Tory neglect and mismanagement had impacted on a service that was once the envy of the world. No apology from Mrs May could counter fatal delays in ambulance call-outs, ever-growing wait- ing times, packed and under-staffed A&Es, and the postponement of a month’s worth of non-urgent operations and appointments. The crisis has been exacerbated by the government’s fund- ing squeeze on local authorities, which has led to bed-blocking on hospital wards.
And it is not just in health and social care that the impact is being felt right across Britain. Councils are being forced to spend their own resources tackling the effects of Universal Credit and preparing for its roll out. New data shows some are having to provide additional rent arrears support and increase staffing as well as working with their local food banks and Citizens Advice Bureeaux to offset the impact of UC.
The Resolution Foundation’s report on wage growth succinctly encapsulates the hardship many across Britain are facing under the Tories and will continue to face in 2018. Real wages are still lower than they were in 2010 and Britain faces a productivity crisis.
And fare hikes by the rail companies mean that the average commuter will in the year ahead pay £2,888 for their season ticket, £694 more than in 2010. Some commuters are paying over £2,500 more to travel to work than in 2010. In Theresa May’s own constituency, the cost of an annual season ticket from Maidenhead to London Paddington has risen by £732 since 2010.
Such issues, and many, many more, show that the Tory Titanic is heading into an icefield, and merely shifting lifeboat crews will not save it.