With a minority government and constant resignations, the prime minister is left with very few options—and that could have serious implications for governmentby Gavin Freeguard / March 27, 2019 / Leave a comment
When people say the first rule of politics is to be able to count, it usually means keeping track of how many people are likely to vote with you and against you in the sorts of votes that have punctuated the parliamentary timetable in recent weeks. But increasingly, an abacus and advanced arithmetic are necessary to keep up with the resignations from Theresa May’s government. The scale of the problem is obvious and the implications for good government quite serious.
There are as many eye-opening stats to choose from as indicative vote options. In her two years and eight months as prime minister, May has faced 28 ministerial resignations outside reshuffles, more than Margaret Thatcher did in her 11 and a half years in Number 10. Twenty-seven have come since the 2017 general election, with 20 of them due to policy or political disagreements—more than under Blair, Brown and Thatcher put together. Eighteen of those resignations have been because of Brexit, including four from the cabinet.
Between 1979 and 2017, only once did three ministers resign in the same twenty-four hour period (Carrington, Atkins and Luce over the Falklands). This has happened three times since the start of 2018—three ministers in July 2018, four in November 2018, and three this week—because of Brexit.
The departures of Steve Brine, Richard Harrington and Alistair Burt—who all resigned this week—has created four ministerial vacancies (Burt spanned both the Department for International Development and the Foreign Office). But there is a fifth vacancy—Sarah Newton quit as minister for disability at the Department for Work and Pensions on 13th March but had still not been replaced a fortnight later. Junior ministers might not always attract headlines, but their work—driving policies through their departments, doing much of the heavy-lifting in parliament—matters. Disability charities have been outragedat the lack of a replacement for Newton.
David Cameron replaced all of his resigning ministers within 24 hours; May has long been reconciled to taking considerably longer. The situation with Newton is not unique—it took weeks to replace Damian Green, then de facto deputy prime minister.
This reflects the political challenges of the post-referendum landscape, but it may also be a sign that the pool of potential replacements is running dry.
As the prime minister…