I know, the news about the conflict between Cabinet ministers is now, well, no longer news. However, as this blog does not specialise in breaking stories, I feel little regret about being considerably late on this one.
I suppose I’ll start with the row over Philip Hammond’s reported comment that ‘even a woman’ could drive a train. There are conceivably two possibilities here. Firstly, that the unnamed minister, who briefed The Times, made up or spun Mr Hammond’s comments. This has been Hammond’s own position, stating that he ‘wouldn’t say anything like that’ and that he doesn’t ‘think like that.’ If this is true then it would seem that the minister must have made up the exchange between the Chancellor and the Prime Minister purely to harm the stability of May’s government.
The alternate possibility is that the minister was not being libellous, rather reporting what was accurately said. This is still incredibly damaging to May’s authority, as one of her own ministers is leaking cabinet discussions. It also does nothing to help shift the Conservatives’ branding as ‘the nasty party’, such comments being misogynistic, sexist and archaic.
The Chancellor was also reported to claim that public sector workers are ‘overpaid’, something which he failed to deny on the Andrew Marr Show. To me, this only highlights how disconnected the leading figures in the Conservative Party are with the majority of the population. In 2009, Hammond’s wealth was estimated to be £9 million. Despite this, he seems to think that NHS nurses who have had a 14% real terms wage cut, many now being forced to use food banks, are ‘overpaid’.
The perception of a Cabinet in disarray was further compounded last week by an exclusive in the Sunday Telegraph, which read:
Philip Hammond is deliberately working to ‘frustrate’ Brexit and treating pro-Leave ministers like ‘pirates who have taken him prisoner’, a Cabinet minister has told The Telegraph, in an extraordinary attack on one of the most senior members of the Government.
On the 15th of this month, I did an article about the division that exists within the Conservative Party over Brexit. This briefing is indicative of the different approaches and opinions about the Brexit negotiations that are found within the Cabinet. The language that is used is also particularly interesting – ‘pirates’ implying that the Chancellor sees the Eurosceptic ministers to have been particularly hostile towards him.
So now onto May’s responses to the debacle. She reportedly told her colleagues: ‘no backbiting, no carping. The choice is me or Jeremy Corbyn – and nobody wants him.’ This statement has already been dealt with in a piece by Nick Tyrone, but I’d just like to add to what Nick has said by calling attention to how weak it shows May’s leadership to be. She can only justify her position as Prime Minister to her own MPs by the fact that they would prefer her to the Labour leader. As I am writing this she has just proclaimed, on LBC, that ‘there is no such thing as an unsackable minister.’ Perhaps this is an indication that May wants to get rid of the ministers responsible for the Cabinet leaks. Although that is something that I doubt considering that – due to her only slim working majority with DUP – she is probably keen to avoid making back bench enemies and that to publically name the ministers would probably exacerbate the appearance of a government in turmoil. It is probably more likely that she is trying to issue a kind of warning to ministers, that they may lose their jobs if the problems continue. It seems, to keep control of the Cabinet, May has had to resort to fear.