It was the “night of the blunt stiletto”, said one government source. Theresa May’s cabinet revamp “fell flat” after senior ministers derailed her reshuffle by “refusing to budge”, say Jack Maidment and Kate McCann in The Daily Telegraph. Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who has been in his post for nearly six years, turned down the job of business secretary and instead emerged with the new “beefed-up title” of secretary of state for health and social care.
Most of the cabinet remained intact, says Sebastian Payne in the Financial Times, and the “big briefs remain untouched”. The most substantial change is a major shake-up of Conservative HQ, where Brandon Lewis (left in the picture) becomes the new party chairman, James Cleverly (pictured right) his deputy, and a string of vice-chairmen take up new posts. Some of the appointments are “baffling”, says The Times.
Why move David Gauke from work and pensions “just after he has taken the sting out of controversial welfare changes and hand it to Esther McVey, already a hate figure for the left”? Why move Rory Stewart, a former deputy governor in Iraq, from the “perfect fit” for Africa minister to prisons? And why tell Brexiteers there will be a “minister for no deal” in the cabinet, and then not appoint one?
May’s claims that she had chosen a government that “looks more like the country it serves” is true in the sense that “the people at the very top remain unchanged and most of the women are in lower-paid, lower-profile jobs”, notes Matt Chorley in The Times. Men still account for almost 70% of ministers.
The number of black and ethnic-minority ministers is up from five to nine, while the number of Oxbridge graduates has actually gone up from 46 to 48. And how ironic, notes Polly Toynbee in The Guardian, that it was the gay, comprehensive-educated Justine Greening, the perfect image “detoxifier” for the Tories, who ultimately proved disposable.
Give May a break, says Philip Johnston in The Daily Telegraph. Reshuffles – managing the egos and “unrealistic expectations” of ambitious colleagues – are “never easy” and May’s finds herself in a position “unique to any peacetime prime minister”. She cannot focus on the domestic agenda because “Brexit acts like a black hole, sucking everything into its vortex”.
We were told that senior cabinet roles remained unchanged to ensure continuity, “but that was to make a virtue of necessity”. The “carping must stop”, agrees The Times. This reshuffle showed that May is not “driven by any great missionary zeal”, but “the responsibilities of government go on, and it is not as if Mrs May’s administration has nothing on its plate”.
An unhappy 70th birthday for the NHS
This year marks the 70th anniversary of the NHS, Britain’s “most treasured institution”, says The Guardian. However, it is “eight years into a funding regime” that fails, every year, to match the “inexorable growth in demand”. Any “system-wide” increase in need, as happens annually during the winter flu season, “tips it over the edge”.
The problem will only get worse, says the Financial Times. Beds and staff numbers have been declining even as our ageing demographic, a rise in chronic diseases, growing expectations and expensive treatments have increased demand and costs. “To complete the grim picture, deep cuts in public funding for social care have shifted to the NHS much of the cost of looking after the elderly.”
So where could more money come from? Ministers are “too cowardly” to part-privatise the NHS by supplementing it with private contributions, says Janet Daley in The Daily Telegraph. But one idea that seems to be gaining traction is “hypothecation”: a “dedicated NHS tax”, says Janan Ganesh in the FT. Voters know that more money needs to be spent on healthcare, but a hypothecated tax would force people to “decide exactly how much they are willing to pay”.
It is not a solution – our population will still age, “brilliant but costly” new treatments will continue to be developed – but it will “encourage hard-headed thought”. In place of “generalised angst, the debate would have to take shape”: how much more we should pay, and for what kind of change. “Like adults, we would have to make our choices and live with them.”