The Guardian view on cabinet leaks: not before time, the battle of Brexit | Editorial | Opinion

Theresa May’s cabinet is limping towards the temporary relief that this week’s start of the summer parliamentary recess may offer. A spate of leaks, mainly against the chancellor, Philip Hammond, nevertheless shows the extent of ministerial disagreement over Brexit and much else, and the weakness of Mrs May’s much-diminished authority. On Tuesday, Mrs May will attempt to lay down the law about cabinet collective responsibility once again. Few expect the lesson to stick for long. That’s because Mrs May lacks the clout to get rid of even Larry the Downing Street cat, much less to sack a disloyal minister. The recess can cover over but cannot conceal a set of divisions that the government must nevertheless confront.

All cabinets leak. Mostly they do it officially in the form of “guidance” to the media. But cabinet ministers leaking against one another is relatively rare. When it happens, it is almost invariably a sign of deep prime ministerial and cabinet weakness. Harold Wilson’s 1964 cabinet was a notable example. So was John Major’s in 1992. If Theresa May’s cabinet now makes that three, it is because all these governments have something in common: small or non-existent majorities. A fragile majority, divisive issues, a weak prime minister and mischief-making ministers always make an unstable mix.

Sometimes it is possible to keep some control over potential instability. The coalition government of 2010 was leaky, but the show was kept firmly on the road by the device of the “quad”, in which four key ministers met regularly to grip the biggest issues, especially on the economy. Mrs May could learn from that example, not least because her government is, in fact, also a coalition. It is kept in place, for the moment, by the general concurrence within the Tory party, particularly among backbenchers, that a leadership challenge would do even worse damage to the Tory party by exposing deep divisions and precipitating a general election that…

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