The reshuffle might be over, but the government is still changing shape. It has emerged that George Bridges has quit as a Brexit minister. He was highly rated by David Davis, his erstwhile boss, and had established himself as one of the most able ministers in the government – precisely the sort of person they can’t really afford to lose at this time. So why has he walked out now? We are only given a diplomatic answer: he’d been contemplating moving on for some time, and it seemed like a good time.
If this rationale sounds familiar it’s precisely the formula that Katie Perrior deployed when she quit as Theresa May’s communications chief after just nine months in the job. We now know the real reason that Perrior quit: she felt that May’s No10 was dysfunctional, that she was unable to consult or lead a team, that there were “batshit crazy” ideas flying around and that the Prime Minister preferred diktats to consultation. As we saw in the general election campaign, the Maybot struggles to move out of third gear. So she can give a good speech every month or so, but a leader needs to hit the accelerator and move into fifth gear – especially during Brexit negotiations, which will be conducted in real time, when the format of government should be more like a war Cabinet with daily meetings.
Is Theresa May capable of this gear shift? The election campaign suggested not.
When news of Bridges resignation broke - he quit on Sunday, it turns out, and of his own volition - I was with a senior Tory peer who said that Bridges is the sort of person the party needs to be leading the House of Lords rather than leaving the government. So his departure is cause for alarm. Bridges is not a flouncer-outer: he served the Major government to the last, when everyone else had abandoned that burning deck. To add to the chaos, David Jones has been sacked as Brexit minister - so the two of them have gone just days before the Brexit negotiations are due to start. Not the best look.
Having lost her two chiefs of staff, Theresa May now needs to build a genuine team - a point her ministers and MPs have been making to her. But the odds on her doing so are slim. If the machinery around was not adept enough for a general election, how will it be adept enough for Brexit negotiations? So I can see why Lord Bridges might have thought this a good time to quit:. He had presented Article 50 and a White Paper that will now struggle to get through the House of Lords. How on earth can this be done, now that May has failed to win a majority for her manifesto? There is no clear answer.