One of the advantages of being round politics for a very long time is that you realise that very little is new. We are promised revolutions (which tend to scare the voters) and we end up with the same old same old, but with a little bit of star dust if we are lucky. All governments promise not to chase headlines, but they all do it. All governments promise to streamline and some of them have a crack at it, but are worn down by policies grabbed from pre pubescents in think tanks who haven’t thought them through. All governments promise policies will be delivered effectively and most try really, really hard. And once in a while they succeed. All governments promise to reform the House of Lords, but as most ministers crave to be lower than ermine the promise of a bauble is effective crowd control. And all governments do their level best to frighten and threaten the BBC. And for a short while it works. In the end the relationship between politician and journalist is not dissimilar to that of a dog and a lamppost. At the moment the government is the dog. But it will change as both need each other. And they will eventually realise that many of the children on social media who claim to be journalists are merely ambitious chancers with an agenda. Young people are as keen to get to the truth of a story as anyone else, it’s just that they get their information from different sources. Many are a hell of a lot more cynical about they way politicians operate than an old hack like me.
The great success of the Johnson administration is that it acts as if it had just won an election defeating a government that fell into decline. It is as if Cameron and May are being airbrushed out of history and that ten years of Tory rule, austerity, dither and stagnation have now been replaced by a dynamic, optimistic ‘can do’ turbo charged government fizzing with new and exciting ideas. That’s wonderful. Huzzar! So may we have them now please?
Shrinking the cabinet and merging departments always sounds a good idea a d in some cases it is. Thirty two people around the table is hardly the best way to make decisions. Ted Heath tried a massive cull and it didn’t work. Tony Blair, sensibly, often just sat them round the table to agree what had been stitched up in Cabinet Committee or on the sofa. Sofa government is a brilliant concept unless you want to make the really big decisions. Blair was a master of making a minister think that that they had agreed to something warm, fuzzy and sensible if only they could remember what it was. The Thatcher view of cabinet was more Duke of Wellington’s horror of, ‘I have given them their orders and now they want to discuss them’. Eventually, it ended in tears.
And then we come to the Treasury. All departments want to break its grip. Harold Wilson tried it by setting up the Department of Economic Affairs under George Brown. It didn’t last very long because any career civil servant has to pass through the Treasury if they want a career. Harold also had a delightfully barmy plan of knocking down most of the old Whitehall departments like the FCO and the Home Office and housing them in a purpose built 1960s concrete monstrosity. And Thatcher planned to move a lot of Whitehall to Canary Wharf. It never happened.
So now the excitement of an election win is over tough decisions have to be made. HS2 can’t be put off much longer. And for a government who wants to invest in the North binning or emasculating the largest infrastructure project in the UK is not so such bloody stupid as economically illiterate as a cancellation would cost us £12 billion and open them up to the charge that the government doesn’t really care about the north after all.
So please let’s stop buggering around with daft ideas to send the Lords up to York, which would be a pointless and expensive piece of virtue signalling which won’t happen. If it is humanly possible to persuade a prime minister who has just won a massive majority and taken us out of the EU against the odds not to come out with daft plans like, ‘give a bob to make Big Ben Bong’ or a bridge/tunnel to Ireland, it is well worth trying. They are just reminders of how ridiculous gestures like garden bridges and cable cars can come back to bite you. But Johnson’s Achilles heel is that he probably genuinely believes that he is invincible. That this is his destiny. Perhaps the hard reality of government might dent this dangerous delusion. I won’t hold my breath.
Meghan and Harry have kept the government off the front pages for a while which is a very good thing. But they will want to try and dominate the media with the reshuffle. The Corona virus, probably potentially the worst public health hazard since the Spanish flew virus of 1919 is going to require strong an effective government and some very tough decisions, not headline chasing. This maybe the making or breaking of this administration.