A climate change denier, a same-sex marriage opponent and a liar walk into a room. This isn’t a joke by the way, merely what happened when Andrea Leadsom went to her first cabinet meeting. She has been made Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in Theresa May’s new-look Cabinet . The Notting Hill poshos are out and the One-Nation Tories are in – especially those from the Southern Counties. It has been a drastic reshuffle, and also a most intriguing one. Although there is slight hope – such as the old Ed Miliband speech that May appeared to read out in her first press conference – on the whole it looks like another few years of “If we say it enough times it might be true” when it comes to helping the most vulnerable in society.
From a political perspective, this cabinet is vital as it is the first in the brave new world of Brexit – although we all know how May feels about drugs so I doubt we’d be seeing much Soma. In a nod to this new political climate she seems to have adopted a “You break it, you bought it” attitude to foreign policy and farming, appointing Leavers to all of the prominent roles. This should keep the Eurosceptic side of the party at bay, and if it does all end miserably they are the ones who will take the blame. The other side of the coin is that she sees this as a potential way to delay or even stop our exit from the European Union; if the people most enamoured with the idea of leaving can’t make it work, then surely it can’t be done?
We can begin with Leadsom. Her new role means that she will now be in charge of allocating funding to farmers and fishermen, two groups whose funding was largely guaranteed under the E.U. They were promised that the money would remain at the same levels but Leadsom does have a real zeal for feigning ignorance – or at least I like to think it’s feigned. She supported the badger cull despite the fact that it was shown to have no positive impact on animal welfare, but also wants to remove the fox hunting ban as she feels it does not improve animal welfare. This shows that she has her convictions in this area, and she will stick to them like a scrotum to a thigh on a hot day. Even more worrying is her voting record on measures that would reduce climate change; she famously went in to her first day in her previous role as Energy secretary and asked if climate change was real and if fracking was harmful to the environment. Luckily though, May has taken the words “Climate Change” out of Leadsom’s title, so I guess she won’t have to actually worry about it too much.
Her incompetence shone through during her ill-fated run at the top job. Like a child who has spun around one too many times, she bumped from one gaffe to another, always making sure to put across her views across with the eloquence of Danny Dyer after a few shots. She has been given an incredibly hard task in ensuring subsidies for our farming and fishing industries, but she has at least shown some savvy in her decision to drop out, and hopefully her time in the press limelight will moderate her views – after all, it gets to everyone in the end.
Liam Fox is another Leaver who has been rewarded with a mile-high plate of “It’s your problem now”, and is also another new addition to the cabinet with a less-than-stellar past. Fox was kicked out of government five years ago for letting his mate come to confidential national defence meetings. Again, this isn’t a throwaway attempt to be funny: during his time as Defence secretary Liam Fox literally invited his friend to come along to the meetings as well as inviting him on visits abroad. Whilst Fox does have a perennial look of confusion on his face, it really doesn’t excuse him from inviting his former flatmate in to a crisis meeting about Russia land grabbing in Ukraine. The only thing that Fox has going for him is that he’s used to being sent all over the world to discuss problems he doesn’t have the mental capacity, nor the power, to help with.
We then move on to Priti Patel, who has been given the International Development brief. On paper, giving this to the child of immigrants from a less developed country (her parents are from Uganda, but are of Gujarati origin) might be a good idea – the insight that one can glean from the other culture that they grew up in could be valuable for forging links with other groups. However May has also been particularly clever here, in that Patel would not be out of place talking to most dictators and warlords given that she espouses views that are entirely consistent with their outlooks. There is, of course, her desire to bring back hanging. Then there is the fact she voted against the same-sex marriage bill (playing tribute to the current state of Uganda, no doubt) and finally her immense contribution to making sure the tobacco industry keeps as much of its blood money as possible.
She also co-authored the infamous Brittannia Unchained – an Ayn Rand-esque dystopian vision of what Britain could achieve if we got rid of pesky things like worker’s rights and the weekend. The book is so badly written and lacking in coherence that if one were to measure how much shit was in it they would find that it puts a set of Glastonbury port-a-loos to shame. Luckily, Patel is consistent in this regard when it comes to her public speaking. She appears to live by the maxim “If you say anything with enough confidence, people will believe you” and doesn’t appear to believe in facts, logical arguments or coherent sentences. If all that wasn’t enough to make you question whether Patel has the empathy and understanding to work with a variety of different people on International Development, then just remember that time she called a group of disabled peaceful protesters “thugs”.
Then there is Boris. A man who is so determined to live life as if he were still in boarding school that I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that he’d skipped a vote to smoke a joint in a toilet cubicle. If May were looking to avert Brexit, it would appear that Boris is her checkmate move. Johnson famously has the eye for detail of a newborn puppy, so sitting in on meetings where ten languages are being translated may not see him in his element. Then, of course, there is his compunction to act like a child who has just learnt a new swear word, or as Lindsay Lohan once phrased it: word vomit. He has a long and tumultuous relationship with offending other cultures and nationalities, which is a double-edged sword for him: yes, it is likely to impact on his new job, but then again reinforcing stereotypes and belittling other cultures is a vital component to his Churchill fantasy, and we couldn’t deny him that.
However, there is a (slight) chance that May could be on to something – by creating a ministerial position for Brexit she has taken away a lot of the technical wrangling Johnson appears to be allergic to that would have otherwise been his intensely difficult brief. Liam Fox’s brief will also take away some duties that historically belonged to the Foreign Office. Of course there is still work to do, but he has an army of civil servants at his disposal.
Moreover, there is no doubt that the tempestuous Boris has offended an alarmingly large number of nationalities in his long political career, but May is a formidable character. The fact that she is the living embodiment of the Head Teacher you don’t cross should have some sway on Johnson – he is an exhibitionist and a buffoon, but he also knows the press aren’t fawning over the Mr. Bean goes into politics act anymore. And a Boris on his best behaviour is, by all accounts, fairly charming – with that in mind it appears that Theresa May is turning Foreign Secretary in to more of a more mascot-like position – and if we’re being honest in another life Johnson would have made a tremendous Dancin’ Homer. However, the general perception is that he wants the top job, and if he has to act his age to accomplish this he may even end up restoring some of his shattered credibility. It’s a shame that his second language is a dead one, though.
And it is with the world’s poshest bumpkin that we can again assess some of the impact that this cabinet has on political intrigue and domestic affairs in Britain. With Gove and the rest of the Notting Hill set apparently dead to the political world, Boris remains schemer-in-chief at Westminster. It would be prudent to get him away from the stuffy corridors of power and into…the stuffy corridors of power in different countries where he can’t speak the language and doesn’t have any friends. Johnson being away constantly both undermines his influence and harms his ability to operate effectively.
May has also decided to keep Jeremy Hunt as health secretary (that sound you heard around 1pm on July 14th was actually the sound of every doctor in the U.K simultaneously punching a wall). In the same way that Henry Hill succeeded with the Lucchese family, Hunt is seen as a rising star within the Tory party because of his ability to mercilessly do the dirty work of cutting services to the most vulnerable in society whilst simultaneously brazenly lying to the public about what he is doing. He is very close to being politically toxic at the moment, but so is the whole Health department. It is rumoured that Theresa Villiers turned down the opportunity to take over Hunt’s brief and it is obvious why: the BMA is one of the few unions left that still have mass public support, and because people forget that they are a union they tend to get away with a lot more.
Nicky Morgan has been removed from her post as Education Secretary. She was often blasted as incompetent and single-minded, but as she was clearly George Osborne in a wig it doesn’t seem fair to judge her to the same standard as someone doing just one job. Her doppelgänger has also been replaced: Phillip Hammond is the new Chancellor and it must be said that having a Chancellor with a background in economics may finally allow the Conservative party to hit an economic target.
On the whole, May has put together a cabinet that is very much a product of this unique situation. Regardless of who she had put where, a large number of people were likely to be unhappy. By ramping up the left wing rhetoric in her speeches so far, May has also taken some of the heat off of her new ministers – the papers are reporting her reassuring words alongside their sometimes singeing analysis of her choices. With Labour in cyclical crisis, May has stamped her authority all over Westminster – and after months of uncertainty we are now very much under her command.