When Harold McMillan sacked seven cabinet ministers in short succession during a reshuffle in 1962, it came to be known in British politics as The Night of the Long Knives, in a rather hyperbolic reference to the Nazi purge of German politics in 1934. Several have attempted to highlight the stark contrast between McMillan’s bold reshuffle and May’s attempt on Monday.
A Channel 4 journalist described it as “Night of the long plastic forks”, whereas the Telegraph opted for “Night of the blunt stiletto”. To Theresa May, it must have just felt like a long night.
Like her conference speech which — largely through no fault of her own — suffered major setbacks after being billed as an opportunity to show strength and, dare one say it, stability, May’s new-year reshuffle has highlighted the prime minister’s acute lack of power. May’s hand was more or less forced, with the third of three cabinet resignations in as many months occurring just before the Christmas break.
Usually, there are a few likely motives behind any reshuffle: moving future leadership candidates up the ladder, clearing political deadwood and attempting to change the image of government. Done right, reshuffles can have a slight positive impact on polling and make it much easier to carry out certain policy initiatives, by putting the right people at the head of the right departments and select committees.