The power dynamics at Number 10 are far more interesting and revealing than the sad mutterings of disgruntled cabinet ministers jockeying for survival. The reshuffle is now rumoured to be in June. But this is idle gossip compared to serious intelligence. The Johnson style of government has always been ill thought out and chaotic. Skirmish rather than strategy. Survive until tomorrow. There will be no Johnsonism in the footnotes of history, his legacy will be wholly reliant on his alter ego, Mr Micawber. Something will turn up.
Well it has. The phenomenal success of the vaccination programme has given Johnson a new spring in his step and has given the country genuine hope that if we hang on just a little longer our lives might just return to something resembling normal. At the moment that is all that matters to most people. The real fear is that the PM, dancing on a cloud of optimism, will say something really silly to appease the Rampton Wing of his party and plunge us back to square one.
But back to Cabinet. With a few notable exceptions namely, Sunak, Gove, Buckland, Coffey and Hancock, they are not so much lacklustre as utterly hopeless. I really don’t understand how Jenrick can be let out without a carer, why Liz Truss tops the popularity polls in Conservative Home, or the minor miracle of Priti Patel being able to walk and talk at roughly the same time. But who cares? The PM doesn’t. The Cabinet are just an end of the pier waxworks whose artificial body parts are thrown into a boiling cauldron of to be remodelled every now and again. They count for very little. The power lies elsewhere.
I cannot remember any time since Harold Wilson when the Kitchen Cabinet, a cabal of unelected officials were in charge of decision making. And I cannot remember a time since Marcia Williams, Harold Wilson’s gatekeeper, conscience and political powerhouse when anyone unelected exerted such influence as Carrie Symonds.
Last week I touched on the new appointments of Henry Newman and Simone Finn. As usual, there seems (it’s all gossip really) to be a bit of a power struggle going on as to who will have the PM’s ear. At the moment Dan Rosenfield is being briefed against. This is just plain stupid. We need sensible and structured decision making not a rerun of a Cummings psycho drama. I suspect that Carrie will bang heads together as Johnson just wants a quiet life.
It will be no surprise that it is said that the appointment of David Frost as the new EU relations supremo will have seriously pissed off Gove and Raab. The Foreign Office will be up to their old tricks of undermining any threat to their influence. I doubt whether they will succeed because of the dynamics. The EU are more politically in tune with the FCO than with Frost, but he represents our future relationship with them and after months of negotiations, they know him. There will be a level of trust. And Gove? He is still Frost’s boss. They worked closely together and have a camaraderie born out of shared frustrations during the negotiations. They are probably friends. I doubt whether they will be any friction between them. The ideal solution would be to make Gove Foreign Secretary and Frost as his minister of state. All of this is pure speculation. But it has a ring of truth.
Talk of reshuffles tends to buy ministers’ loyalty for a while. Anyone who briefs against the power of the kitchen Cabinet will have a problem. And anyone who briefs against Carrie will disappear in a puff of cordite. She is a power to be reckoned with. Underestimate her at your peril. But eventually, when things go wrong, the pygmies will turn against her. And that will be a shame as she appears to have better political judgment than anyone else at Number 10.