How Theresa's showdown with Justine Greening turned ugly: ANDREW PIERCE has the inside story on the very rocky reshuffle
A smiling Justine Greening was photographed on a run yesterday morning
Two years ago, Justine Greening seconded Theresa May's application to be Tory leader. At the time, the MP for Putney had good reason to be grateful to her.
In 2005, she secured the nomination as Tory candidate in Putney with the help of pressure group Women2Win, which was launched to push more females into winnable Conservative seats. One of its founders was Theresa May.
But the pair's relationship has crumbled during the past year as the Prime Minister tired of Greening's tone of voice in Cabinet meetings, described by one observer as often 'patronising and supercilious'.
For all that, the PM's advisers were hopeful, when Greening arrived in Downing Street for a reshuffle meeting just after 5pm on Monday, that she would not only agree to be moved from education but relish the alternative offer of Welfare Secretary.
'It is the biggest-spending department in the Government. It definitely was not a sideways move,' says one Whitehall source.
'We thought it was a good fit for Justine. She did not agree.'
In a tense, almost hour-long meeting in the Cabinet room, with May and her chief of staff Gavin Barwell, Greening – who came out last year as a gay woman – complained bitterly about being labelled 'dead wood', apparently by an unnamed Downing Street figure, in a Sunday newspaper.
She was also enraged by other briefings over the weekend that education was the key policy area that cost the Tories their overall majority at the last general election.
The teaching unions had produced information naming schools whose budgets were being cut across the country, with accompanying letters sent to parents.
In the bruising exchange with the Prime Minister as winter gloom descended outside, an indignant Greening claimed that it was unfair to make her the scapegoat, and insisted that the Treasury had cut her budget with the approval of No 10.
'It got very ugly between them,' says another source.
Greening was holed up in Downing Street for the best part of two hours as the Chief Whip Julian Smith joined the increasingly frantic efforts to persuade her not to leave the Cabinet.
Ms Greening was pictured leaving No 10 after resigning as the Health Secretary on Monday
But her mind was made up, and she has been replaced by the former Cheshire grammar school boy Damian Hinds.
Now, ironically enough, she is expected to join forces on the backbenches with other rebel Remainers led by Nicky Morgan, whom Greening replaced as Education Secretary in the summer 2016 reshuffle.
While the conversations with Greening were the most acrimonious, the first sign that the reshuffle was going to be another public relations disaster came earlier in the day.
The replacement of Sir Patrick McLoughlin as Tory party chairman should have been a formality. Yet on Monday morning there was last-minute speculation that Chris Grayling, the lugubrious Transport Secretary, was being teed up for the role.
When the BBC incorrectly reported that Grayling was to be the chairman, a tweet was sent at 11.43am from Conservative Central Office by Iain Carter, the party's political director.
'Congratulations to Chris Grayling following his appointment as Conservative Party chairman #Cabinetreshuffle.'
The same message was sent to Tory MPs on their WhatsApp message service. Twenty-seven seconds later, the tweet was abruptly deleted.
After that debacle, the actual new party chairman Brandon Lewis went into Downing Street at 11.57am and left nearly an hour later, in time for a photo opportunity outside No 10 with the Prime Minister and nine new party vice-chairmen.
The photograph had been intended to convey to the world a new, no longer, pale and male line-up – more ethnically diverse and with more women.
But the blunder over Grayling took the gloss off the occasion.
In a day of increasing farce, the Conservative Party website then collapsed because the party had failed to upgrade its software.
Brandon Lewis (pictured yesterday) was made the new Conservative Party chairman, replacing Sir Patrick McLoughlin
As the afternoon unfolded, Mrs May prepared to welcome Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, who for weeks had been tipped as the new First Secretary of State – the de facto deputy prime minister.
When Hunt walked into Downing Street at 2.51pm, there was a conspicuous gap on the lapel of his suit where he usually sported an NHS badge.
When he left, with a broad smile at 4.37pm, the badge was back in its usual place.
Mrs May, who has a good relationship with Hunt, never had any intention of promoting a potential leadership rival to the role of First Secretary of State.
But bizarrely Downing Street had allowed the speculation to run when a simple denial would have put a stop to it.
It's now clear that this meeting went badly, too.
The PM told Hunt that she wanted to move him to the more junior post of Business Secretary, but Hunt flatly refused.
For an hour he argued with the PM about why he should not just stay at health, but also take the responsibility for social care.
He emerged victorious just before five o'clock.
By the end of one of the most chaotic reshuffles in recent history, the Cabinet, which was supposed to look more diverse, had no new black or ethnic faces – and the only gay woman had quit. Not quite the New Year relaunch the Tories had been hoping for.
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