Number one on the PM’s ‘to do’ list this week was to ensure that Cabinet falls in line behind her stance on public sector pay. It’s proven a difficult task for May, with a number of high profile ministers calling for an end to the 1% cap. Despite repeated assurances from No. 10 that the Government’s position on public sector pay has not changed, the story refuses to die, much to the delight of Messrs Corbyn and McDonnell.
An image of a leadership in turmoil – shackled by an ever emboldened Cabinet – is becoming clearer. Notable dissidents this week include Michael Gove, Justine Greening (who wants £1bn for schools – better get watering that money tree) and Jeremy Hunt. The most senior minister to have broken ranks with official policy was Boris Johnson, when he threw his weight behind calls for the ceiling on wage rises to be lifted. May was provided with some light relief on Thursday afternoon as it was reported that Boris does in fact back the Government’s position…for now.
Despite Johnson’s decision to fall in line, this episode has provided the latest evidence that Cabinet decorum has changed. Instead of keeping ministerial disagreements behind closed doors, ministers are airing their dirty laundry in public; an odd mirroring of Jeremy Corbyn’s Shadow Cabinet prior to the General Election.
This dissent is not particularly helpful for a Prime Minister still attempting to piece back together an utterly shattered ‘strong and stable image’ - something Jeremy Corbyn and his Shadow Cabinet continued to exploit this week.
Another blow to May’s position came when ConservativeHome published the results of a survey of Tory activists’ favourite ministers. The Prime Minister, who pre-election held the highest Tory member satisfaction, plummeted to second last place, followed by Patrick McLoughlin in last place. Brexit Secretary David Davis is now the party’s favourite member of Cabinet; a result that is worth keeping an eye on, even if talk of a new leader has dissipated for now.
Perhaps though, we should be keeping a close eye on the suddenly ‘insta-famous’ Jacob Rees-Mogg, who has recently overtaken the PM in the battle for Instagram followers. The MP for North East Somerset, who announced the birth of his sixth child Sixtus via an Instagram post this week, has gathered somewhat of a cult following. Rees-Mogg is now being encouraged by his fan base to attempt a leadership bid. Before you start contemplating what a Rees-Mogg Government might look like (statutory Latin tuition perhaps?), he is likely to be rather pre-occupied in his battle for the chairmanship of the Treasury Select Committee.
All in all, an ego bruising week for May. But let’s face it – she’s had tougher weeks.