ConHome’s Cabinet League Table. Everyone’s rating is down – and half of the top table is now in negative territory. Worst ever results.

Not for the faint-hearted. Contains intense violence, blood and gore, strong language and Philip Hammond.


Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.

The aftermath of Chequers saw the ratings of every single Cabinet member fall. It was its worst collective performance to date.  But it is a measure of how shocking our latest monthly results are that those members would be justified in tumbling to their knees – and begging for those post-Chequers results to be resurrected.

Then, six Cabinet Ministers were in negative territory: Brandon Lewis, Greg Clark, Julian Smith, Chris Grayling, Philip Hammond…and Theresa May.

Now, they are joined by Jeremy Wright, David Gauke, Claire Perry, David Lidington, Liam Fox, Amber Rudd – on her return to the top table – Caroline Nokes, Andrea Leadsom, Karen Bradley and, on his debut, by Steve Barclay. Unsweet sixteen.

Yes, that’s sixteen Ministers in the red, rather than six – outnumbering the 13 of its members who get into the black, some of them by tiny margins.  No fewer than seven ministers have positive ratings of lower than ten points: James Brokenshire, Gavin Williamson, David Mundell, Alan Cairns, Damian Hinds and, yes, the mighty Michael Gove, who topped the table as recently as June.

Geoffrey Cox led the pack with a 67.5 approval rating last month.  He is still top, but his rating is down by about a third.  Ditto, roughly, the table’s other top performers, if that label can be used in the same sentence as this dismal return.

And never mind the ratings – look at the falls.  Liam Fox was at 35, but is now in negative territory.  Andrea Leadsom’s score follows a similar pattern.  Penny Mordaunt hasn’t publicly defended the deal. Maybe that’s why she’s still in the black. Just about.

So is there any good news for anyone at all?  It depends what you mean.  Theresa May’s rating was actually lower after Chequers, but her scores are still horrible: – 48.1 then, – 42 this month (she was – 42.3 last month, since you ask).  However, Philip Hammond is at -46.7, which must be a new low, even for him.

Ruth Davidson would have cause to think, as she gives Baby Finn a cuddle: what’s the point of coming back?

Johnson. Distrusted by Conservative MPs. Clung to by Party members. He extends his lead in our Next Tory Leader survey.

It may be that the former Foreign Secretary has become a kind of comfort blanket in bewilderingly unpredictable times.

We wrote last month that progress in our Next Tory Leader table is invariably linked to media coverage.  This month’s result suggests that it ain’t necessarily so, at least in these unprecedented times at Westminster.

Dominic Raab is a Brexiteer; so are most Party members; his resignation was courageous; it was well-reported; he is plainly very able.  But his total is up by only four points.

Boris Johnson has had what, for him, counts as a quiet month.  Theresa May is clocking up over an appearance a week in the Commons at present – not counting PMQs.  Johnson has got to his feet to question her in two of her past four performances, fewer times than some of his fellow Brexiteering MPs, and has otherwise been largely restricted to his Daily Telegraph column, to which the paper has been devoting declining space.  But his rating is up by five points.

What is going on?  As ever, your reading may be as good as ours, but we tentatively advance the following line of thought.

First, David Davis remains in double figures, drifting down from 13 per cent to ten per cent.  He is taking a slice of the pro-Brexit vote, which blurs an already inchoate picture.  Second, resignations are coming so fast that they are perhaps of declining value – at least as far as this survey question is concerned.  Third, other answers show a clear anti-deal pattern, and Johnson is a familiar, known, anti-deal quality among Party members – a kind of comfort blanket, perhaps.

Finally, a paradox may be at work.

Never before in what has become an increasingly besieged premiership, turbulent even by the standard of some recent Prime Ministers, has Theresa May’s leadership been so fragile.  But it may be, in the aftermath of the failure of the push to depose her by Jacob Rees-Mogg and Steve Baker, that our respondents now somehow assume that her position is stronger than the facts suggest that it is – and that she will simply go “on and on and on”, regardless of the toppling buildings and collapsing masonry around her.

As we say, that’s just one reading of this result: that the main Brexit drama is so compelling that the Conservative leadership sub-plot is a sideshow by comparison.  (And, for all Johnson’s improved rating, he has only a quarter of the total.)

Sajid Javid is down from 19 per cent to 12 per cent.  His boat is being rocked by the anti-deal feelings of Party members.  Other than Johnson, Raab, Davis and Javid himself, no-one else reaches double figures.

Andrew Gimson’s PMQs sketch: You behold a range of exhausted volcanoes

Never have the Prime Minister’s colleagues looked more despondent, but her backbenchers refrained from trying to defenestrate her.

Nothing beats the experience of seeing PMQs on the television, for then one can study the expressions of Theresa May’s colleagues on the front bench.

Disraeli in a famous passage in a speech delivered at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester in April 1872 said of Gladstone’s Cabinet, in office for a bit over three years:

“As I sat opposite the Treasury Bench the ministers reminded me of one of those marine landscapes not very unusual on the coasts of South America. You behold a range of exhausted volcanoes. Not a flame flickers on a single pallid crest. But the situation is still dangerous. There are occasional earthquakes, and ever and anon the dark rumbling of the sea.”

What is one to say of May’s Cabinet? Most of them look exhausted, but it is hard to imagine they were ever particularly volcanic. As they listened with despondent politeness to the clichés and evasions which poured, not quite as fluently but just as doggedly as usual, from their leader’s contorted mouth, one was reminded of a staff outing which everyone now bitterly regrets agreeing to go on, but no one can see a way of getting out of.

The most visible members of the party – there were others just out of shot – were David Mundell, David Lidington, Steve Barclay, Amber Rudd, Jeremy Hunt, Greg Clark, Penny Mordaunt and Sajid Javid.

Except for a moment or two when Hunt muttered a joke to Rudd, not a flame flickered on a single pallid crest. A weary glumness was the prevailing mood, with Mundell perhaps the unhappiest of them all.

Fortunately for May, Corbyn is no Disraeli. He plugged away, but gave her too much time to think, and buried his best lines in superfluous ones. He remarked that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who usually sits beside the Prime Minister, was not present, though many of the exchanges were about the gloomy forecasts just issued by the Treasury.

From the Conservative benches, no one really went for May. It is possible they felt they had overdone it when they attacked her on Monday, and were now ashamed of themselves for trying to bully her.

Can it be that the Tory tribe is slowly deciding, with intense and gloomy reluctance, that it can only survive by sticking together? “There is an exit from the backstop,” the Prime Minister was saying, “but we don’t want the backstop to be invoked in the first place,”

No one from her side of the House really took issue with her about that crucial question. Perhaps they are keeping their powder dry for the days of debate which will unfold before the so-called Meaningful Vote. But perhaps, just perhaps, they  are starting to think that defenestrating her would be even worse than going on listening to her.

Iain Dale: Brady, not only keeper of the letters, but a dark horse leadership candidate

Plus: Cox, another possible. Plus 15 names in total. Women for May. And: I will make sure the Treasury backtracks on the loan charge scandal.

Iain Dale is an LBC presenter, a commentator with CNN and the author/editor of over 30 books.

On Tuesday, Steve Baker led a Commons debate on the loan charge scandal. Although it was held in Westminster Hall, it was extremely well attended, with MPs from all parties giving John Glen, the Treasury Minister tasked with responding to the debate, a right going-over.

I wasn’t there, but am told that he looked rather shaken at the vehemence of some of the contributions. For those who don’t know about the loan charge controversy, HMRC is trying to claim 20 years of back taxes from people who legitimately took advantage of a tax scheme that reduced their tax liabilities.

These are not rich people; they are independent contractors. It emerged this week that Philip Hammond has had to apologise for the evidence he gave to the Treasury Select Committee in which he called such schemes ‘illegal tax evasion’. Since the schemes were endorsed by HMRC, they certainly couldn’t be described in this way. Indeed, not only were they endorsed by HMRC, but we found out this week that it was paying contractors itself using these schemes! Hypocritical, much.

I have no problem with the Treasury stopping these arrangements, but to go after people for 20 years of back taxes is just outrageous and contrary to all the rules of natural justice. They’re causing huge amounts of human misery, bankruptcies, family break-ups and even two suicides.

I have no doubt that they will have to backtrack on this, and admit that they’ve got it wrong. Indeed, I intend to make sure of it. It’s just a matter of when.

– – – – – – – – – –

If Theresa May is actually ever knocked off her perch, it is rumoured that up to 15 candidates might put their names forward to succeed her.

Most of their candidacies would be utterly self-delusional, of course, but one name which hasn’t yet done the rounds very much is that of the keeper of the 48 letters (or fewer) himself – Sir Graham Brady. He’s trusted across the party, he’s a Brexiteer of the non-foaming-at-the mouth-variety, he’s the right age… I could go on.

Elected in 1997 he would be popular with the older guard and, as Chairman of the 1922 Executive Committee, he’s also liked and respected by new MPs.

I hate to use the phrase ‘compromise candidate’, but it wouldn’t be the first time someone had come through the middle as everyone’s second choice. His main drawback is his relative lack of visibility in the voluntary party, I suppose.

I first met Graham back in the early 1990s when he was working at the Centre for Policy Studies. He then joined the transport-based public affairs consultancy that I was co-owner of. I came to know him well enough to be able to say repeatedly on the radio over the past week or two that if there’s anyone the Conservatives can trust to maintain the rules of the party over the leadership, it’s Graham. And I mean it.

– – – – – – – – – –

I wonder if the betting markets are taking bets on the number of Tory MPs who will throw their hat into the ring when the time comes. I reckon there are at least a dozen who have made it known they would consider running, or are expected to stand. Here’s my list so far…

  • Geoffrey Cox
  • David Davis
  • George Freeman
  • Michael Gove
  • Jeremy Hunt
  • Sajid Javid
  • Boris Johnson
  • Philip Lee
  • Penny Mordaunt
  • Amber Rudd
  • Tom Tugendhat

I saw one article claim that, if Michael Gove doesn’t stand, Nick Boles might while, according to one of my sources, Caroline Nokes, the Immigration Minister, might also take a punt. Given her record in the post so far, I’d say this would be a ‘courageous’ move on her part.

– – – – – – – – – –

One statistic leapt out at me from the recent spate of polls. It was the fact that  Labour’s six point lead among female voters has recently been transformed into a five point Tory lead.

I think there is a general feeling out there among so-called ‘normal’ voters that Theresa May is doing her best and that the beastly men are being unfair to her.  The rights and wrongs of the Brexit deal don’t really concern ordinary voters, but the optics do.

Women may not always be the greatest supporters of female politicians, but if they feel that a fellow woman is being bullied or unfairly treated, then the wagons begin to circle. That’s what’s happening here.

– – – – – – – – – –

A lot of attention has been paid to Cox over the last six weeks, since he sprang into our collective consciousness at the Birmingham conference, where he introduced the Prime Minister with a barnstorming rallying cry.

He’s now said to harbour some leadership ambitions himself. A bit as with Graham Brady, it’s not impossible to see the stars aligning. But attention should also be paid to his deputy, Robert Buckland, the Solicitor-General.

He’s increasingly rolled out to defend a sticky wicket in the media by Number Ten, and does a bloody good job at it. He’s also got a very well-developed sense of humour

I imagine he rather enjoys his current job, but in the next reshuffle I hope he gets a Minister of State post in which he can prove whether he’s got Cabinet potential. I rather think the answer will be yes.

Mordaunt “broadens out” role of Government Equalities Office “beyond women on boards and big business”: full text

“White women have an employment rate of 73.3 per cent, while women of Bangladeshi ethnicity have an employment rate of just 32.8 per cent.”

Penny Mordaunt, the Minister for Women and Equalities, gave the following speech this morning to the Bright Blue’s Women in Work event

Today is the centenary of women’s suffrage.

This is the moment when women finally gained a foothold in political life.

There are some that say: “So what?” They’re the sort of people that have never felt injustice.

When our Prime Minister made her first statement in her new role, she chose to focus on “burning injustices” that still existed in our country.

She was right to do so. And she gave some examples.

Here are some more.

  • If you’re in the UK and disabled, you’re 70 per cent more likely to be unemployed.
  • According to experts, LGBT people are more likely to be at risk of being homeless or rough sleeping.
  • 11 per cent of all rough sleepers in London have been in care, and the majority have mental health needs.
  • 30 per cent of women who were in low paid jobs in 2006 were stuck in low pay a decade later.
  • And people from Black African, Bangladeshi and Pakistani ethnic groups are still most likely to live in poverty and deprivation and, given the damaging effects of poverty on education, work and health, families can become locked into disadvantage for generations.

To fight injustice, we need a strong economy.

That’s why I’m proud of our track record economically. It was also clear to me that if we were to deliver her agenda we needed to enable Whitehall to better focus on these complex issues.

And problems that needed to be tackled by multiple departments.

For the long term – not dependent on Government, but enabled by it.

Issues, which as a nation we had not yet gripped:

  • layered disadvantage;
  • ignored potential.

How do we remove multiple barriers, enabling more resource than government has, and help it to be levered in?

It was clear that business as usual wasn’t going to cut it.

If we’re going to deliver on this agenda. We needed to start by joining things up. We need to work smarter. We needed to make sure we are applying the best ideas and solutions, whether they are from within government or outside. We need to get moving – literally.

Last week I announced that the Prime Minister had approved some “machinery of government changes”, as Sir Humphrey would say.

Let me translate.

I want to give the Government Equalities Office not just a new home, but a permanent home, and most importantly at the centre of government.

That’s why I’m delighted that it’ll be in the Cabinet Office, from April, alongside the Race Disparity Unit. From there it will become an equalities hub, and provide some much-needed clout behind those working to ensure all our citizens have what they need to thrive.

A hub for all parts of Whitehall and beyond.

It’s no good having a central government strategy to tackle injustice if local government and communities can’t deliver it, too.

So, critically, such a hub will help us better articulate and co-ordinate a national mission to enable everyone to help fight injustice.

It will help join up our communications with key stakeholders.

One of the early things I asked for in my role as Women and Equalities Minister was a look across all the equalities asks we’re making of business.

An audit showed we’re making lots of similar requests depending on which government department is asking.

We’re asking large employers to report gender pay data.

BEIS are asking them to report CEO pay ratios, and are consulting on  ethnicity pay regulations

Government wants business to sign up to a range of schemes like:

  • The Race at Work Charter;
  • Disability Confident;
  • Sector charters for gender equality;
  • and the See Potential campaign.

All of these issues are important and they all require energy and commitment in their own specific areas. But they’re not joined up or co-ordinated.

We need to think how that looks to an HR director or chief executive. How are we helping them to see the bigger picture or helping them to become an inclusive employer?

How irritating is it to have extra burdens placed on you or be lectured about workplace etiquette by a bunch of legislators whose own Houses are far from in order?

We owe it to our businesses to make sure these processes work with each other and reference each other, so that we are setting them up for success, not failure. I want to thank Greg Clark and David Lidington for supporting me in this.

I want us to get better at understanding of the asks we make on businesses and developing policy which supports them to do better on diversity and inclusion. The processes are only the means. It’s the end – the creation of dynamic, diverse, high performing business and organisations – that really matters.

It will help ensure that what we are doing as a government, but also together as a nation, really is greater than the sum of the parts.

My vision for GEO is that we’re the catalysts across government, amplifying and lending weight to the excellent work already underway in so many departments, and also across the country, too.

And while we’re not changing any reporting lines of Minister of State and Parliamentary Under-Secretaries who are doing work focused on tackling inequality, we will support them from the GEO in getting their ambitions met.

Work by people like:

  • Rory Stewart at the MOJ, trying to tackle the issues of drugs, violence and high rates of self-harm and suicide in prison;
  • People Like Jackie Doyle-Price, who is doing great work on women’s health inequalities;
  • Or Sarah Newton who is not only working on the disability employment gap, but also on empowering the disabled consumer;
  • Or Chloe Smith at Cabinet Office, who is leading work to engage young people in democracy;
  • Or Kelly Tolhurst, who’s putting into practice the government’s commitment to flexible working;
  • Or Heather Wheeler at Housing, Communities and Local Government, addressing the issues facing some of the most vulnerable people in our society.

I know they and other colleagues have huge ambitions and passion in tackling injustice and giving people what they need to build their future.

I know how hard it can be as a Junior Minister to join things up across Whitehall, and move at the pace that potential partners need us to. And the GEO can be of huge help to them in getting the things that we know need doing, done.

This machinery of government change is important, but more is needed too.

Across the public sector, we must ensure equality impact assessments are effective and remain core and integral to our policy development, with proper consideration of equalities knitted into our organisational cultures and decision-making.

And that the Equality and Human Rights Commission is as effective as it can be and delivers on the recommendations made by the Tailored Review which was published earlier this week. I know David is committed in doing that.

When I took over this brief I know questions were asked about its fit with my other, international facing, department.

Much of my focus at DFID is on the sustainable development goals and more recently on the Human Capital Index – what we’re investing in our people, what we could invest and what outcomes are we getting for that investment.

I’m a Human Capital Champion for the World Bank, and that’s a good fit with my domestic brief.

I’m pleased that the Index already disaggregates the data by gender – something the UK Government pushed hard for. But I would like to see it do the same, for example, by disability. The UK should be leading the way on this, building on the strong commitment to transparency which we have already demonstrated through the Race Disparity Audit and Gender Pay Gap reporting.

My work with other nations is about their journey – so that every one of their citizens can reach their full potential.

And that is the same measure we should judge ourselves on too, that no one should be left behind.

And that is at the heart of the Prime Minister’s mission she articulated on the steps of Downing Street.

To deliver that, we will not just need a shift of gear, but a broadening out of what the GEO has been focused on and an increase in our ambitions in this respect.

Whitehall tends to focus on what it knows can be done. What can be easily measured. Its strategy tends to focus pretty much only on what it can effect directly and control.

When it tackles thornier and more complex issues, it’s usually in the shape of discovering best practice, or chipping away at an issue.

And that is what we have tended to do at GEO.

Understandably, and rightly, it has historically had huge focus on women in work.

GEO has successfully shifted the dial on a number of issues including:

  • launching a £1.5 million grant fund to encourage action in the private sector, and launching programmes in the public sector for health professionals, teachers and prospective Civil Servants, all of which are helping ‘returners’ across the country get back into work;
  • supporting the Hampton-Alexander Review to make progress against their ambitious targets for getting more women at the top of business, seeing the number of all-male boards in the FTSE 350 fall from 152 to 5 since 2011;
  • working with BEIS on a Shared Parental Leave campaign to raise awareness and uptake of Shared Parental Leave, helping more families to share caring.

There’s a lot of focus on women in boardrooms. Of course, that is emblematic of the progress women are making. But, in truth, this is not the place where business is being re-imagined. Often poor treatment and the perception of being undervalued in the workplace is the main driver for female entrepreneurs.

But if we want every woman to thrive, to be as financially secure and resilient as they can be, and to reach their full potential we need to broaden out our work beyond, the FTSE 350, beyond London, beyond executives, women on boards and big business.

We need a focus on small businesses, part time work, women from all parts of the UK, low paid women, women with multiple barriers to reaching their full potential, older women, financially fragile women, women who aren’t easy to reach, or measure, or sometimes even to see.

The invisible women who keep our families our public services and our nation going.

Women to who we owe a great deal.

And women who really need our support.

And we need to focus on women at every stage of their lives.

And let me just briefly add some reassurance to the Times newspaper or anyone else who sees the fact that we want to support women who are cleaning offices, as well as the occupants of those offices, and see that as some sort of ‘downgrading’ of ‘middle class’ issues – don’t panic – women’s ministers can multitask.

The work done on gender pay gap reporting has been hugely helpful in focusing larger companies on the issue. It encourages them to understand the various drivers and the action that can be taken by them and others to address it.

Our work has inspired other nations to follow suit, and our metrics have now been adopted by the Bloomberg equality index.

But what does it tell us?

Let’s take a look at the data.

There is a gender pay gap from the beginning of working life, indicating structural inequalities.

The gap rises steeply as women begin to have children and take time out of the labour market to care for them.

It continues to increase as women approach 50, showing the impact of many women taking several years out of work or working part-time, often to enable them to care for children.

And it is highest for those aged 50-59.

The peak age for being an unpaid carer is 55-64 years old – women often do the caring for both children and elderly relatives.

Towards the end of a woman’s working life it continues to rise and then turns into a pensions pay gap. With men projected to have around a 25 per cent higher income on average than women in their first year of retirement.

As we all live longer, this pensions gap will affect people long into their old age, leading to real inequalities in the standard of living people can afford.

It’s important to me that we recognise women are individuals and we are not all identical. A range of factors affects their personal experiences, which we need to do more to understand. 

The gender pay gap data and the wealth of research GEO has done over the past year have helped us understand some of the challenges women face around work:

  • caring responsibilities is a huge issue;
  • women are more likely to be low paid than men and far more likely to get stuck in low pay;
  • just over 2 million people are inactive due to caring and 90 per cent of those people are women;
  • 1 in 10 working age women belong to the ‘sandwich generation’ – providing care as well as having dependent children;
  • this rises to 1 in 7 for women in their early 40s, those who are most likely to be in this position.

Older women of the ‘sandwich generation’ are more likely than men to have given up work as a result of their greater caring responsibilities. This disparity is particularly acute for older women on low incomes.

Women on legacy benefits can be trapped into limiting their hours or income by Tax Credit rules – that is why Universal Credit, which removes the cliff edge between unemployment and work, has to work.

We need to help women and men to have a better understanding of the negative impact of choices they have, may have drifted or been forced into.

The financial impact of these choices tends to be borne by women, so we need to address the reasons for that, find new solutions and create more choice so that those who want to, can share those burdens more equally.

It used to be said that behind every great man, was a great woman.

These days great men are ones that get behind women.

And we need to make it easier for them to do so.

Too often work, schools, childcare and health services are designed assuming that one parent will be in work and one parent is the primary carer.

Today’s families want to share caring more flexibly, and we need work and wider social support to reflect that.

This Government has a strong record on childcare and parental leave: by 2019-20 we’ll be spending around £6 billion on childcare support, more than any previous government.

In 2015, we introduced Shared Parental Leave & Pay to help parents share the care in their child’s first year.

This Autumn, we announced plans to require large employers to publish their policies on parental leave and pay; and to ensure ALL jobs are advertised as flexible. But just as the nature of work is changing, and families’ expectations evolve, we must ensure that we continue to look at how we support parents to balance work and care more effectively.

For example, self-employed fathers are not eligible for Shared Parental Leave, and self-employed parents can find it impossible to navigate the complex system as to what they’re entitled to.

The Industrial Strategy points to workplace flexibility as a driver of productivity, but many people still can’t find jobs that offer them the right flexibility.

We recently published the Carers Action Plan and set up the Flexible Working Taskforce to promote best practice for flexible working.

And we also know that getting local and central government to work better together, is absolutely necessary in really making a difference.

There are some great examples – governments partnerships with local authorities in ‘Integration Areas’ across England, combine the weight of central government with the on-the-ground expertise only local government can provide.

But we know sometimes that is the exception rather than the rule – and if local and central government aren’t pushing in the same direction this leads to confusion for people trying to access local services, or incorrect assumption being made about a person’s costs of living, for example making assumptions about a person’s income, but giving no weight to devolved decisions which affect it, such as council tax discounts.

So, as well as what we can learn from gender pay gap data what else do we need to think about.

How can we give better support to the 4.2 million women who are also disabled, or those from an ethnic minority?

White women have an employment rate of 73.3 per cent, while women of Bangladeshi ethnicity have an employment rate of just 32.8 per cent.

In the 2011 census, there were 464,000 women in the UK who could not speak English well or at all.

Or what about those with complex backgrounds often involving domestic abuse – 1.2 million female victims last year.

Women who are financially or digitally illiterate.

An OECD study, found that men were over a third more likely to reach a minimum standard of financial knowledge than women.

And out of the 4.3 million adults who have no basic digital skills at all, over 60 per cent are women.

But ALL of these women want to find opportunities to realise their talent and we must help all of them.

It should be the GEO mission to ensure that every woman in the UK has as much freedom and choice and capacity and resilience, and support and protection to do whatever she wants to do.

So, you will see a broadening in our work, as well as a new address.

And Today I am announcing that the next phase of our returners programme – £500,000 of funding to support people to return to work when they are ready to do so, will be focusing on those with additional barriers to participating in the labour market – including people who speak little English, people with disabilities, and those who are homeless or have been victims of domestic abuse.

I am also announcing a further £100,000 to start some more bespoke support for very marginalised women some of who have little or no work history in particular parts of the country.

There is so much more to do.

We already have some great organisations out there helping us get this right. The Women’s Business Council helps us reach business leaders, and has done some brilliant work since it was established in 2012.

In Parliament, the Women and Equalities Select Committee engages with a range of organisations to inform parliament and government’s thinking.

And there are some great forums and campaign groups out there.

But I want to make sure we hear from women in every community, so we are undertaking a piece of work to ensure female voices are better heard by policy makers.

Every woman in the UK should feel able to raise the issues which concern them, and know that we are taking them seriously and are responding to those issues. And to find the right solutions to the complex policy challenges we face, we need to be drawing on everyone’s expertise – no one has a better insight into tricky gender equality issues than the women who are dealing with them every day.

Our message to women is this: you will set our agenda.

The Prime Minister set out her mission.

But it is all of ours, too.

And in these turbulent and divided times I can think of no better mission to bring us together.

Thank you.

Famous five or fatuous five?

May won’t yield to their demand for renegotiation unless she believes that at least some of them will quit. And on the basis of last week, why would she?

Each politician has his or her own ideals, ambitions, strengths, weaknesses, hopes, fears.  It follows that the more MPs there are involved in a scheme, the more likely these qualities are to clash and collide, like particles in an experiment.  The discipline of party or government is usually required to keep politicians marching in step – and that includes Cabinet Ministers.

Which brings us to the five who want Theresa May to renegotiate aspects of her draft deal.  One might assume that Ministers as senior as Liam Fox, Michael Gove, Chris Grayling, Andrea Leadsom and Penny Mordaunt, when banded together, carry the authority of the Government with them.  But in this case, they do not.  It rests with Theresa May.  She is Prime Minister.  The Cabinet is her Cabinet.  She controls its agenda.  She shapes the minutes.

This is why she was able to see off last week’s Cabinet push to get her to renegotiate the deal.  There are no votes round the Cabinet table, as Esther McVey discovered.  There is no loyal Opposition.  Cabinet decisions may not be unanimous but they are, to use a word that May deployed herself, collective.  If a Cabinet Minister is opposed to one to the point where he cannot live with it, his only course is to resign – as McVey and Dominic Raab duly did in the meeting’s wake.

Only when a Prime Minister has lost her power do Cabinet Ministers gain more of it than she has.  This, notoriously, was the case when Margaret Thatcher was forced out.  She had beaten off a leadership challenge, but not by enough to maintain her command.  Her successor could be in a situation similar, or worse, by the end of the coming week.  But she is not there yet, if she ever will be.  While she would be foolish to sack any of the five – her powers are not limitless – her grip is for the moment tenuous, but real.

She will also have a shrewd grasp of the position of each of the five.  She won’t read Liam Fox as a resigner.  Nor Chris Grayling.  Michael Gove backed her plan very reluctantly in Cabinet, has tried to persuade her to change it, pondered resignation…but not resigned.  It would be difficult for him now to go.  That leaves Andrea Leadsom and Penny Mordaunt, perhaps the most likely of the five to walk (though one never knows).  But that tangle of motives may divide them, which opens the door to divide and rule.

In short, the threat of resignation is ultimately the only device likely to make May yield to their push.  And she will surely be thinking that if none of them quit last week, then why would any of them do so this week?  It may be that other Cabinet Ministers will now join them.  It is even possible that the Prime Minister will give way.  But if they aren’t prepared to walk away, they will probably get an outcome they won’t like.  Where else have we heard that recently?

Iain Dale: The Prime Minister put in a superb Parliamentary performance yesterday

Plus: But her deal’s so bad I’d rather Remain. Robbins is the real Rasputin, not Timothy. Would I really vote Tory tomorrow? And: Carry on Cocks and Dicks.

Iain Dale is an LBC presenter, a commentator with CNN and the author/editor of over 30 books.

I’m not angry: I’m just overwhelmed by a feeling of sadness that it’s come to this. It didn’t have to be this way.

I’m convinced that if Nick Timothy was still Theresa May’s chief adviser, things would have been very different. Instead, Olly Robbins replaced him in the Prime ministerial affections game, and we know the result.

Oops, how every dare I criticise a civil servant! The very thought. Well, I’m sorry: this Rasputin-like figure has more of a hold over the Prime Minister than Alan Walters had over Mrs Thatcher, or Peter Mandelson over Tony Blair.

She’s believed his every utterance or piece of advice over Brexit strategy even though, time and time again, he’s proved to have been disastrously wrong. On each occasion, it has resulted in yet another humiliating capitulation. When the rue history of this period is written, Robbins will not come out of it well.

– – – – – – – – –

On Wednesday, I wrote on my blog explaining why I thought the Brexit deal hatched between Theresa May and the EU was just about the worst result possible.

Indeed, so bad is it that if I had to choose between remaining in the EU and voting for this abortion of a deal, I would vote to Remain. I don’t resile from my Brexit vote, or the firm belief that we are better off out – but the trouble is, we won’t be out if this deal gets through.

For the avoidance of doubt, let me put on the record once again that no deal is preferable to a bad deal, and that this is the very worst deal. No deal is not an ideal option either, but at least we’d be master of our own destinies.

Yes, I accept that there would be some short-term issues to get over – but get over them we undoubtedly would. Instead May thinks that we should accept European rules with no say in their drafting. Any fool can see the dangers in that, and it is the direct opposite of ‘taking back control’.

So when the deal comes to the Commons, I hope it is decisively rejected. And I say that in the full knowledge that the Prime Minister would undoubtedly have to resign immediately. There’s no way she could survive it.

Having said that, she does have a remarkable ability to endure the impossible. But this time I think she’s bitten off too much. It takes a special talent to unite Andrew Adonis and Jacob Rees-Mogg, but by God she’s achieved it. It will be something she will live to regret, I suspect.

– – – – – – – – – –

I’m completing this diary early on Thursday afternoon. So far, there have been six resignations but by the time you read this I suspect there will have been more.

If Penny Mordaunt, Andrea Leadsom, Liam Fox and Michael Gove aren’t seriously considering their positions, I am not quite sure what kind of backbone they think they have.

Dominic Raab has now got first mover advantage, and has instantly transformed himself into a frontline leadership candidate.

– – – – – – – – – –

I have to say that May put in a superb parliamentary performance yesterday. Having to stand up on your hind legs when you’ve just had two cabinet ministers resign can’t have been easy. And to take questions for two and a half hours is something that few other leaders across the world would ever have to do. Credit to her for coming through it with aplomb.

– – – – – – – – – –

This week, I feel a bit of a fraud writing for ConservativeHome. For the first time in a very long time, I do wonder if I could support the Conservative Party in a general election were it held tomorrow. If it were a snap election held on the basis of endorsing Theresa May’s Brexit deal, I don’t think that I could.

But here’s the dilemma. Who else could I vote for? Certainly not Labour, definitely not the Liberal Democrats, absolutely not UKIP, whose leadership I abhor with every fibre of my being.

The Greens? Another lot of pro-European zealots. But I don’t really believe in spoiling my ballot paper, either. And this is why I rarely believe people who say after some Conservative disaster or another, “I’ll never vote Tory again”. Time heals and most people go back to their normal political home.

May had better hope there really are four years between now and the next election. Many people will have forgiven the party for this Horlicks of a Brexit deal by then…but it’s entirely possible that this open wound won’t have healed by then, either.

– – – – – – – – – –

Last week I told the tale of Cox, Dicks and Willy. However, according to a senior cabinet minister who texted me having read it, I missed out the best story.

Terry Dicks, John McDonnell’s predecessor as MP for Hayes & Harlington, used to tell a story about a public meeting in the 1979 election when he was standing against Michael Cocks, the Labour Chief Whip in Bristol.

According to Terry, the well-spoken woman in the chair concluded the meeting with the words: “Well ladies, there you have it. Your choice is between Cocks and Dicks”. For some of us, it was ever thus…

McVey is the next domino to fall. She quits. The spotlight switches to Mordaunt.

She had little alternative after calling for a vote on the draft deal in Cabinet yesterday, and being rebuffed by the Prime Minister, the Cabinet Secretary and the Chief Whip.

She had little alternative after calling for a vote on the draft deal in Cabinet yesterday, pressing her case strongly, and being rebuffed by the Prime Minister, the Cabinet Secretary and the Chief Whip.

The former Work and Pensions Secretary and fervent Brexiteer has kept quiet on the Government’s EU policy since Chequers. This was no longer sustainable. It places more pressure on Penny Mordaunt, who called for a free vote in Cabinet yesterday, to explain her position.

May is left with two Cabinet vacancies to fill.  Ambitious Ministers of State and Under-Secretaries usually strain to fill these.  There will still be enough of them to go round, but there will be a sense now that the new appointments may not last long.

The draft deal looks even more unlikely to pass the Commons, a leadership challenge even more likely.  The survival of this Government in any coherent form must now be under threat.

P.S: Suella Braverman, who some thought might quit DexEU when David Davis and Steve Baker resigned over Chequers, has also gone.

Changing the Prime Minister, in itself, would solve nothing

A new leader would need a new plan to reverse this evident humiliation of May’s leadership and of British statecraft.

If we can congratulate Cabinet members on nothing else this morning, we can at least do so on their ability to speed read under pressure.  In less than a morning, they somehow managed to master 585 pages of the Brexit Draft Withdrawal Agreement, all without recourse to independent legal advice.  Plus the seven pages of the Outline Political Declaration – a mere bagatelle by comparison.  Yes, that’s right.  The Government wants us to hand over the best part of £40 billion for fewer than ten pages of unenforceable text. And our future negotiating leverage into the bargain.

But let’s stick for the moment to the Withdrawal Agreement.  Don’t judge it before you’ve read it, its backers said yesterday.  That they were supporters betrayed that they had already made a judgement themselves.  By the same token, they should have conceded that reading a document of that length takes rather more than a few hours.  None the less, we will take their advice.  Unlike a mass of newspapers and commentators, we do not pretend to have done so in full.

So we will make no comment for the moment on whether the Northern Ireland backstop has survived, with its implications for Scotland and the Union.  On the UK-wide or Great Britain backstop, and whether the latter can practicably leave it, de facto if not de jure, with all the consequences that has for our freedom to strike trade deals worldwide.  On whether that seven page declaration points towards Chequers, Canada, Cheqada – or anything bankable at all (and if there are any safeguards for the money).  Above all, on whether the whole package leaves us, in that neat reversal of William Hague’s famous saying, out of Europe, but run by Europe.  And on, if you prefer George Osborne’s brilliantly malicious assessment yesterday, whether or not the EU has Taken Back Control.

We will pause to make only one observation.  Theresa May’s claim that the agreement would allow us to take back that control – of borders, law and money – is already under siege, at least as far as its second part is concerned.  Paul Waugh of the Huffington Post has found 63 references to the European Court of Justice in the draft.  Ending its jurisdiction was at the heart of the EU referendum result.  The Conservative Manifesto committed the Party to it, not that most of members needed any persuading.

Where Waugh has trod, others will follow.  As we write, Martin Howe will be pouring himself another cup of strong black coffee, surrounded by gutted candles and legal tomes.  He will have laboured overnight to craft his assessment.  So will others.  By lunchtime, the Withdrawal Agreement will have been wrenched open, gutted, filletted, and its innards displayed to the world.  One thing is certain: bits of it will not look very appetising.  The Prime Minister will have passed them over in her statement yesterday evening.  One senior ERG member told this site yesterday that the agreement is like a Budget that will unravel on day two.

We are not at all sure that he is right.  This morning, it looks rather more like one of those Budgets that went to pieces on day one.  Today’s splash headlines make bleak reading for Downing Street.  How could they not, given the Cabinet’s verdict, which is all over them, and on the inside pages too?  Dominic Raab was palpably unhappy.  Geoffrey Cox compared the agreement to a life raft made up of oil drums and a plastic sail.  Michael Gove thinks it is bad, but that no deal would be worse.  Sajid Javid and Jeremy Hunt pushed at May to take if back to the EU for re-drafting.  Liam Fox dislikes the backstop.  Penny Mordaunt wants a free vote, so that she can oppose the agreement.  Esther McVey actually called for a vote, clashing with the Chief Whip and the Cabinet Secretary.  How on earth can any of the discontented third of the Cabinet, or more, look voters in the eye and claim they are content with it?  How can they go out and sell it?  It is significant that, yesterday evening, none of them were due to take to the airwaves this morning.

One last point on that Cabinet meeting.  Reporting of it has tended to divide members up into supporters and opponents of the agreement.  This is understandable, but flawed.  The Cabinet makes, as the Prime Minister said yesterday, collective decisions.  And as McVey has discovered, it does not vote.  Nor do its members shape the minutes.  If they are unhappy, they must either wait to be cheered up, or resign.  Those whose discontent spills over into opposition, like McVey, have not quit – so far.  Do they really intend to stay in office, hoping perhaps that the agreement collapses, or that the Commons votes it down, saying nothing about it at all?  Such a position would be worse than dishonourable, in a manner of speaking.  It would be ridiculous.

By then, events may well have overtaken them.  Perhaps Graham Brady will announce today that he has received 48 letters, and that a confidence ballot in Theresa May must be held.  Maybe he will not.  Perhaps it will come later, or not at all.  But even if it does, and she wins it convincingly, her troubles will be far from over. As matters stand, it is very unlikely that the agreement can get through the Commons.  Even if she survives a ballot, she might not be able to survive that.  The combination of a future Commons vote on the agreement and aleadership contest, ushering in a new Prime Minister, would be like a cutting-edge experiment with two new chemicals.  There is simply no knowing what it would bring.  We believe that a Conservative Prime Minister, faced with this Commons, can carry through Brexit if intent on it – even a no deal one, given the legislative state of play.  But it is possible that the mix could blow the laboratory roof off.

Our position on May’s leadership is well-known.  Like our members’ panel, we believe that she should not lead the Party into the next election.  Enraged Brexiteer MPs are itching to get her out now.  The sum of their view is that there is a lie at the heart of her policy – that she does not believe her own words; that no deal is better than a bad deal.  For this reason, they say, we are not properly prepared.  Downing Street and the Treasury have dragged their feet, and conspired to spring a new choice on the Cabinet yesterday: May’s Deal, a chaotic No Deal, or No Brexit.  And for this she has lost the DUP, in all likelihood, and with it her majority.

One doesn’t have to take a view on the agreement before accepting their point.  But they should reflect that changing the Prime Minister, in itself, would solve nothing.  A new Conservative leader would face the same old Commons.  He or she would need a new plan – Canada, plus or minus those three pluses; Nick Boles’ Norway-for-Now; or perhaps a transition to No Deal, as proposed by some Cabinet Ministers.  And given the numbers in the Commons, logic also points to a general election, sooner rather than later, to win a majority for change.  That runs the risk of a Corbyn Government – and, more pressingly as far as some Tory MPs are concerned, the loss of their seats.

Some Leavers will be tempted to join many Remainers, and say that this humbling pass, this evident humiliation of May’s leadership and of British statecraft, is the inevitable consequence of Brexit.  Our response is uncompromising.  The British people are entitled to vote to leave the European Union.  If they were now to be told that they can’t, because our politicians aren’t up to negotiating it; or the commanding heights of our institutions are against it; or government is incapable of planning for it – in short, that they must “come to heel”, in John Kerr’s illuminating phrase – what would that say to the British people about the state of our liberal demcracy and parliamentary government?  The potential consequences are so far-reaching that there is no need to spell them out.

Raab, Cox, Gove, Fox, Mordaunt – all these Cabinet members, and others, should prepare to resign today

They should first seek to persuade May not to press for a decision, since there will have been no opportunity for full timely study of the text.

As this month began, we set five tests for any Brexit deal that Theresa May might recommend to her Cabinet members.  They were as follows:

  • Would it hive off Northern Ireland?  Will there be either an an exit date or a unilateral escape mechanism from the backstop?
  • Does it threaten to break up the Union?  If there isn’t, and Northern Ireland is effectively to be kept in the Single Market, won’t that boost the SNP’s campaign for Scottish independence – and the break-up of the Union?
  • Would it trap the country in a customs union?  If Great Britain is to be put into a parallel customs union, will there be either an exit date or a unilateral escape mechanism from it?
  • Does it hand over money for nothing? Since a future trade deal will be covered by an unenforceable political declaration – not the Withdrawal Agreement – what safeguards are there against  shelling out £40 billion for nothing?
  • Chequers or Canada? Given that the political declaration is likely to be written in vague, Cheqada terms, which future does it really point to – Chequers or Canada?

In the wake of the Prime Minister summoning Cabinet members for one-to-one meetings yesterday evening, with a full Cabinet meeting due this afternoon, it is possible that there are reassuring answers to all these questions.

But it is more likely that, as we wrote then, the proposed deal would wreck the prospect of meaningful trade deals, hand over £40 billion for no bankable gain, and potentially threaten the break-up of the UK.

It is early days to draw definitive conclusions either way about the draft agreement’s contents, but it is clear that the planned settlements for Great Britain and Northern Ireland will be different.

And Sabine Weyand suggested to a meeting of EU ambassadors yesterday that the deal would effectively keep the whole UK in the Customs Union, force EU access to our fishing waters, and align us to Single Market rules.

Such a settlement would breach the Conservative Manifesto commitments to leave the Customs Union, and arguably the Single Market too – and threaten the survival of the Government if the DUP withdrew all support, as it is poised to do.

At any rate, it is evident that the Prime Minister is no longer driven by the belief, in the famous phrase from her Lancaster House speech, that “No Deal is better than a Bad Deal”.  Evidently, she is desparate for a settlement.

In a sense, then, one can scarcely blame her for seeking to bounce the Cabinet today.  Its members are being given this morning only to examine 500 or so pages of the Withdrawal Agreement alone before it meets this afternoon.

It will be impossible for them to undertake the full timely study of this text, plus legal advice about it, within this brief time-frame – let alone to get independent advice about what it all adds up to.

It follows that when May proposes the immediate approval of the draft deal today, Brexiteering Ministers have no option but to seek to persuade the Cabinet as a whole to withold that approval – even if that means missing the November deadline for a summit.

On our count, Sajid Javid, Jeremy Hunt, Dominic Raab, Gavin Williamson, Liam Fox, Michael Gove, Chris Grayling, Esther McVey, Natalie Evans, David Mundell and Penny Mordaunt have all variously asked questions or expressed doubts about where the deal is going.

Add Liz Truss, Andrea Leadsom and Geoffrey Cox to the list – all these are entitled to attend Cabinet, though they are not full members – and one reaches 14 of a total of 29, just under half.

Of course, it is the Prime Minister who takes the voices and shapes Cabinet minutes: its members don’t do anything so crude as cast votes.  In short, if she is determined to make the proposed deal the basis for a summit, Cabinet members aren’t well placed to stop her.

Which leaves only one course open to them.  If those resistant to approving any deal on the basis of a single meeting aren’t heeded, they will have no practicable alternative but to resign.

Our article of a month ago was headed: the Cabinet must stand ready to take back control.  Today may be the last chance that its members have to do so.