In a dramatic move last night, after almost three hours inside Downing Street Justine Greening quit from the cabinet.
It was widely understood that Theresa May wanted to remove Greening from her post as Education Secretary, and when Greening entered Number 10 at 5.15pm her removal seemed imminent. What Downing Street didn’t expect was three hours of negotiating, weakening May as time trickled by, and widespread criticism from those within the Tory Party.
It is reported that Greening was offered the Department for Work and Pensions, but turned it down before quitting from the cabinet. As Greening jumped into a car and left Downing Street, she left a ‘disappointed’ Prime Minister who may one day rue this departure.
Greening responded saying education was her ‘dream job’.
The negotiating that took place in Number 10 has exposed some obvious vulnerabilities which the PM wanted to hide with this reshuffle. Primarily, it has shown May’s declining influence over her ministers. Equally, her reluctance to sack Greening after refusing DWP shows her reticence in wielding the knife too heavily in this reshuffle, given the PM’s extremely low political capital.
Justine Greening was the face of modernism within the Tory Party. She represents factions of the party ordinarily underrepresented, being northern and gay.
Almost immediately, the loss of this key modern figure has created trouble for Downing Street.
LGBT+ Conservatives tweeted:
‘Thank you Justine Greening for all the work that you have done in government. You’ve been a pioneer, a powerful advocate for LGBT rights and an inspiration to us all’.
While Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Conservatives, tweeted her support for Greening calling her:
‘a real role model for LGBT+ Conservatives’.
It was clear that Greening’s departure had upset and frustrated the LGBT wing of the party, whilst also denting the image hoped for by Number 10 of this being a reshuffle to signal the party’s more modern and representative stance.
Politically though, problems only get worse for May. Justine Greening, now free from the ‘collective responsibility’ of the cabinet will be able to challenge the government from the backbenches. As a strong remainer fighting a marginal constituency that voted 90 per cent remain, Justine Greening is likely to join the Tory rebels who want to prevent and change the government’s current Brexit plans. Nicky Morgan, a fellow remain rebel, also tweeted her support for Greening last night. In the future, this departure will be judged on how much trouble Greening and Morgan, together with other backbenchers, were able to cause.
Of course, any government needs ministers that will back its plans. If that means Grammar schools, then Greening was incompatible in her role. Justine Greening’s replacement, Damian Hinds is an ex-grammar schools pupil. Despite this, to push Grammar plans through the Commons would be a difficult and potentially risqué move.
Last night, perhaps inadvertently and through the confusion and misplaced intricacies of a reshuffle, the PM managed to keep her friends closer than her enemies.
But there is no doubt that the departure of Greening runs the risk of overshadowing all that the reshuffle hoped to achieve. Namely, a more modern and socially representative government cabinet.