It’s fair to say the Prime Minister hasn’t quite managed to turn a new page since the announcement of the departure of his chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, and his director of communications, Lee Cain. Their style was abrasive, aggressive and had a strong stench of toxic masculinity. They were like the love children of Malcolm Tucker and Right Said Fred. Their departure was meant to be an opportunity to cleanse the political palate and usher in a new direction — slightly softer and more competent — but the problems go deeper than these two men. It’s the whole Cabinet and it’s time for a reshuffle.
Home Secretary Priti Patel showed the world that toxic femininity had broken the glass ceiling and indeed the ministerial code after a report found that she had bullied staff. I’m not sure this is the kind of “levelling up” we feminists have been questing for.
We’ve seen headlines alleging eye-watering cronyism at the Department of Health involving contracts for PPE worth billions of pounds going to political pals and associates. Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has also faced difficult questions about saving a Tory donor £40 million on planning and this week Education Secretary Gavin Williamson — he of the summer school fiasco — was found to have acted unlawfully in removing safeguards from children in care at the start of the pandemic. With the exception of Rishi Sunak, it’s a Cabinet of all the liabilities where loyalty was rewarded over talent, at great cost to party and country.
There is much talk about a reshuffle in the New Year and this is the big moment for Boris Johnson to genuinely reset his premiership after a torrid first year. What should have been a honeymoon turned into a horror show. The message from new MPs and grandees alike is to ditch the dross and inject some experience, gravitas and talent into his top team. He could do well to look at how Joe Biden is shaping his new Cabinet. Bringing in fresh blood and diversity but blending it with well-respected serious operators with a proven track record.
It’s time for the Prime Minister to forgive people who didn’t back him for leader, or who were Remainers. Bringing back figures like former health secretary Jeremy Hunt or ex-chancellor Sajid Javid would show that he was serious about turning things around. There is also talent in the chairs of select committees like Robert Halfon, Tobias Ellwood and Caroline Nokes who actually know their stuff.
And how about promoting some good women like Tracey Crouch, Penny Mordaunt or Ruth Davidson? 2021 will bring huge challenges for the Prime Minister. He needs his best women and men around him. It’s time to put petty party squabbles behind him, show some humility, strategic thinking and rebuild his entire Cabinet. He doesn’t need calamitous sycophants. He needs stars.