Ben Lowry: Theresa May reveals a ruthless side

Theresa May arrives in Downing Street. Photo: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire
Theresa May arrives in Downing Street. Photo: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire

Two quick observations on the seismic developments in the Tory and Labour parties.

Theresa May has shown a fearsome streak in her reshuffle. It was unusually ruthless.

Leaders such as John Major and Tony Blair, and to a lesser extent Gordon Brown and David Cameron, have tolerated people in their cabinet whom they have distrusted, perhaps even disliked, to keep the peace within their parties – or to keep enemies at hand.

Mrs May has brutally culled the careers of the leading Tories George Osborne and Michael Gove (and sought to demote Theresa Villiers), but she has conspicuously promoted Brexiteers to key posts in a way that eliminates any suggestion that she – a Remainer – is hesitant about implementing the national vote.

People will speculate on why she did this to Osborne and Gove (such as the 2014 extremism spat with the latter) but we might never know, given that this is a woman who seems to be discreet. We do not know who during cabinet meetings over the last six years, for example, has patronised or upset or crossed her, perhaps never anticipating that she would be senior to them. It might be that they too cannot recall if they crossed her in this way, and if so what they did and when.

But in one cabinet reshuffle she has shown that she is not a woman who will hesitate to run things as she sees fit.

As to Labour, its ruling NEC has shown it is disinclined to thwart a mass vote that might go against the party elite.

The Tories chose Iain Duncan Smith over the more popular Ken Clarke in 2001, and might have chosen Andrea Leadsom over Theresa May now. But for reasons that remain unclear, Ms Leadsom bailed out and the leadership was not decided by mass vote.

This must have pleased the party establishment, given how volatile electorates are in these days of highly unpredictable mass polls.

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