Time for a New Team
With the Brexit: Endgame fast approaching, Patrick Sullivan makes the case for a cabinet reshuffle. Those tasked with delivering Brexit should also be those who believe in Brexit.
Theresa May was raised to power by Brexit and as such the success of her Premiership was, from the moment of its inception, inextricably linked to the attainment of her success of Brexit. Despite this the Prime Minister placed arch-Remainers in control over two key levers of power: legislative and administrative.
If as the dictum goes, personnel is policy, then it is with these choices we can find the root of the current crisis. Much media speculation has been made over the Prime Minister’s personal position, and a change at the top would have made a significant difference at an earlier date, but in the present circumstance could in fact prove too much of a pressure for the system to take.
What supporters of Brexit are after has nothing to do with personality politics. There would be many content with Mrs May continuing in office, were she able to correct course. Given that it appears that she isn’t going anywhere, and we are not sure if the alternative is any better (and might indeed be worse), the aim should be a change not in who is Prime Minister but in who is Chief Whip and Minister for the Cabinet Office. Politics is also the art of the possible. I would postulate that it would be easier to convince the Prime Minister on the need for a Cabinet reshuffle, rather than convince her to resign, which is not going to happen.
In seeking these changes, we must not focus on attacking personalities of those currently holding office, rather we should seek that they be replaced by people who actually believe in Brexit. If those tasked with the implementation of the policy believe that it is one of damage limitation, then it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If they are shuffled to positions with less of a leverage over the Brexit process, then that would be good for all involved as I am sure they too must find the process of ‘damage limitation’ quite tiresome.
Master of the House
Legislative power is diametrically opposed to executive power. Since 1979, we have come to consider power only in terms of its executive power. We have very little understanding of what legislative power and how important it is in British government. This has enabled both the Speaker of the House and Remain MPs such as Dominic Grieve MP QC to run legislative rings around the government; to the extent that Theresa May now finds herself perilously close to being in office, but not in power.
The Chief Whip, Julian Smith MP, seems by all appearances to be pleasant, able and genial and could serve the conservative government better in any other capacity than the one which he currently holds. His appointment is symptomatic of this Prime Minister’s desire to surround herself with tight-knit group of supporters. Julian Smith was one of six MPs to have led her leadership campaign and that he was rewarded for his loyalty was simply nothing more than good politics. What is bad politics however is rewarding him with a job that many now consider to be the worst in government. As the old Vulcan proverb goes, “only Nixon can go to China”.
By placing a prominent Remainer such as Mr Smith in charge of selling the PM’s agenda, the government loses credibility from the outset with those MPs optimistic about Brexit. The ideal Chief Whip would be from the Brexit wing of the party which we must not forget did win the referendum and should also have an uncanny ability to read people. Whilst honesty is always required from members of the government, that does not mean different perspectives from members of the Parliamentary Party should not be considered. The Chief Whip must be able to tailor his argument to each individual MP and personality. This person must be outgoing and at home with people and is unlikely to have the same characteristics as would make for a good administrator.
An Administrative Statement
Before this weekend, most people could be forgiven for not knowing who David Lidington MP was. This is despite him holding one of the most important roles in government. As Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office, oversees administrative delivery of the government program, currently including Brexit.
Mr Lidington is an unashamed Europhile and as such his being in post reinforces the anti-Brexit bias inherent within the civil service. Much has been made of civil servants such as Olly Robbins trying to frustrate the Brexit process, but they have been empowered to do so by Mr Liddington. What is needed is somebody who understands how the administrative state in this country works and how to tame it to the will of the people. It needs someone who is both Brexit and not a fire-breathing populist. The Civil Service can only effectively be managed by somebody of the same culture. What is needed, is an expert. What is needed, dare I say it, is Michael Gove.
The man who reportedly still goes to listen to German Opera with George Osborne can speak fluent mandarin. His tenure in office as Secretary of State for Education has left him with a solid track record of achieving results despite opposition from within the bureaucracy and established interests. To make Brexit work, we need somebody in charge of the cabinet office who both knows how government works and also how it doesn’t work. An additional benefit will be that Mr Gove’s frenetic energy will be spent not in the service of the Department for the Environment, protecting Babar the Elephant, but instead spent at the Cabinet Office, protecting the Brexit for which he and the British people voted.
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