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Westlake Legal Group > Esther McVey MP

Beneath the headlines, there’s a case for this having been a continuity reshuffle

The coverage of last week’s reshuffle and its aftermath has been dominated, quite understandably, by the dramatic departure of Sajid Javid from the Government.

Yet whilst this development, and the questions raised about what motivates it and what it signifies about the Prime Minister’s attitude towards power and government, there is a danger of it casting a shadow over our understanding of the reshuffle as a whole.

In fact the Prime Minister has offered much greater continuity than one might assume from a casual glance at the headlines. As the Institute for Government points out:

“Much of the cabinet already has experience of sitting around the table. Only three full members – Anne-Marie Trevelyan, Amanda Milling and George Eustice – and Suella Braverman, the new attorney general who attends cabinet, have not been around the table before.”

The other side of this coin is that the list of departures is also relatively short. When it comes to Secretaries of State it comprises Andrea Leadsom, Nicky Morgan, Julian Smith, and Theresa Villiers. Geoffrey Cox, who as Attorney General attended Cabinet, rounds out the ‘big beasts’, such as they are.

We find the same thing at the lower level. As we noted in our final round-up of the reshuffle, Boris Johnson has avoided the temptation to reshuffle the Whips’ Office. This is a welcome change in approach towards as institution whose efficacy has been undermined in recent years by his predecessors’ penchant for cycling MPs in and out of it too rapidly.

Several veteran ministers have also been left in place. Our editor noted last week the increasingly extraordinary tenure of Nick Gibb as Schools Minister, and the scope of what this veterancy has allowed him to achieve. But alongside him we might group Greg Hands, who remains at International Trade (and has written for us on the subject many times); John Glen, who still holds the post of Economic Secretary to the Treasury he first took up in January 2018; and John Whittingdale, who has rejoined the Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport where he previously served as Secretary of State.

None of this is to diminish the importance of the changes that did occur, and not just at Number 11. Esther McVey’s departure has rightly put the spotlight on the extraordinary turnover of Housing Ministers since the Conservatives first took office in 2010, and replacing Cox with Suella Braverman sends an important signal about the Government’s intentions regarding the constitutional role of the courts, which she recently wrote about on this site.

But a reshuffle may contain multitudes, and the case for taking a continuity view of this one is stronger than it initially appears.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Reshuffle 3) Chris White: It isn’t just Ministers who get fired. A third of SpAds are set to lose their jobs.

Chris White is Managing Director of Newington Communications. He was Special Adviser to Patrick McLoughlin, when the latter served as Chief Whip, as well as to Andrew Lansley and William Hague when each served as Leader of the House.

This reshuffle was the first opportunity for the Prime Minister to shape the Ministerial team that he wants in Government.  These new ministers, from the Cabinet down will be crucial in delivering the ‘levelling-up’ agenda – from pushing legislation through Parliament, to communicating the Government’s plan on the airwaves.

Evolution

It has been interesting to watch the reshuffle evolve during the weeks after the election.

Initially, it was about machinery of government changes – there was to be a new super-department where Business would be folded in with Trade, with Energy and Climate Change splitting off, and International Development combined with the Foreign Office.  Of these, only a mild version of the last has materialised, with four DfID Ministers double-hatting with the FCO.

Why the change? It’s difficult to say, but the Prime Minister is most powerful when he uses his patronage. Cutting the number of Cabinet positions, and departments, loses seats at the table. Combining departments also distracts from delivery – when Energ and Climate Change was folded into the Business Department back in 2016, it took several months for civil servants to stop working in separate buildings and work out the reporting structure, seriously affecting efficiency.

Performance…and loyalty

Despite attempts to stop leaks, this administration is just as prone to them as those which have come before it. There have been briefings from the centre, and counter-briefings from Ministers and advisers, each trying to set the agenda and highlight those who have been performing, or not.

How you measure performance is an art form rather than a science. The Whips will assess the performance of MPs and Ministers in the Chamber, get feedback from constituencies and colleagues, and feed this into the centre.

Those close to the Prime Minister will then assess this information, and place their own judgements on this.  Whilst he ultimately makes the decision, the Chief Whip and a number of senior advisers all have their input.

But it is not just ministerial performance, or perhaps competence, that’s an issue. Take Julian Smith, who only weeks ago got the Northern Ireland Assembly restarted in what was a surprise to all, and who has received tributes from across the political spectrum in Belfast and in Dublin.

Arguably, this performance should have saved him, but it was his perceived disloyalty that confirmed his demise. Smith purportedly threated to resign over Brexit in the autumn of last year, and this is a sin that has not been forgiven.

Others have been loyal, but not necessarily particularly competent at their job, and it’s clearly been the view that it’s time to put some new faces around the table in an attempt to inject some dynamism into these first, crucial months of the new Government.

The Conservatives have a once in a generation opportunity to solidify support in constituencies that only 15 years ago had Labour majorities well north of 10,000: this time cannot be wasted.

Who’s in control?

One of the surprises of the day was the unplanned (or planned?) sacking of the Chancellor. Ordered to fire his six special advisors, Sajid Javid honourably refused, instead falling on his sword.

Prime Ministers have long suffered challenging relationships with the occupants of No.11, with honourable exceptions such as David Cameron and George Osborne. Javid certainly had his run-ins with Dominic Cummings and others in Number 10, holding the traditionally tighter Treasury line on public spending, while Number Ten now wants to loosen the purse strings.

Ultimately, though, this is about control, and Number 10 wants much greater control over the levers of Government. There will now be a joint special adviser unit between it and Number 11 overseeing economic policy – arguably a good idea which should overcome the traditional tensions, especially when the new Chancellor and the Prime Minister trust each other.

Other advisors have also found themselves in the firing line – Peter Cardwell, the Justice Secretary’s media SpAd has been sacked, even though Robert Buckland stayed. Last week, Cummings jokingly told the Friday SpAds meeting that he would ‘see half of you next week’. This week we see advisers being removed from post, a third of them losing their jobs, and Number Ten tightening its grip.

Control can be seized, but can it be sustained? Government produces huge quantities of paperwork, Bills and advice. Number Ten simply cannot be everywhere at once, however much it tries. Too tight a grip removes initiative and the ability for departmental ministers to get on with the job, with everything having to go through the centre, which then becomes a log-jam.  Such a setup is not sustainable in the long-run.

Continuity

Reshuffles happen to provide a sense of renewal, to bring in new talent and boot out the underperforming. Yet they have their downsides as well. There will be some bruised personalities on the backbenches who will need careful managing by the whips over the next few months, and I hear Mark Spencer is already on the job.

One final point worth mentioning is regarding continuity. Sometimes, it works well – George Eustice has been a DEFRA Minister for nearly seven years on and off, and is now promoted to Secretary of State. He knows his brief inside out, and will be effective from day one.

Yet with the sacking of Esther McVey, there have now been ten Housing Ministers in ten years. Equally with Julian Smith going, there have now been four Northern Ireland Secretaries in five years.

We’ve yet to see what happens in the junior ranks, but there must be a greater balance between Ministers becoming effective through time served and understanding the brief, and the need to bring in new talent.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Reshuffle 3) Chris White: It isn’t just Ministers who get fired. A third of SpAds are set to lose their jobs.

Chris White is Managing Director of Newington Communications. He was Special Adviser to Patrick McLoughlin, when the latter served as Chief Whip, as well as to Andrew Lansley and William Hague when each served as Leader of the House.

This reshuffle was the first opportunity for the Prime Minister to shape the Ministerial team that he wants in Government.  These new ministers, from the Cabinet down will be crucial in delivering the ‘levelling-up’ agenda – from pushing legislation through Parliament, to communicating the Government’s plan on the airwaves.

Evolution

It has been interesting to watch the reshuffle evolve during the weeks after the election.

Initially, it was about machinery of government changes – there was to be a new super-department where Business would be folded in with Trade, with Energy and Climate Change splitting off, and International Development combined with the Foreign Office.  Of these, only a mild version of the last has materialised, with four DfID Ministers double-hatting with the FCO.

Why the change? It’s difficult to say, but the Prime Minister is most powerful when he uses his patronage. Cutting the number of Cabinet positions, and departments, loses seats at the table. Combining departments also distracts from delivery – when Energ and Climate Change was folded into the Business Department back in 2016, it took several months for civil servants to stop working in separate buildings and work out the reporting structure, seriously affecting efficiency.

Performance…and loyalty

Despite attempts to stop leaks, this administration is just as prone to them as those which have come before it. There have been briefings from the centre, and counter-briefings from Ministers and advisers, each trying to set the agenda and highlight those who have been performing, or not.

How you measure performance is an art form rather than a science. The Whips will assess the performance of MPs and Ministers in the Chamber, get feedback from constituencies and colleagues, and feed this into the centre.

Those close to the Prime Minister will then assess this information, and place their own judgements on this.  Whilst he ultimately makes the decision, the Chief Whip and a number of senior advisers all have their input.

But it is not just ministerial performance, or perhaps competence, that’s an issue. Take Julian Smith, who only weeks ago got the Northern Ireland Assembly restarted in what was a surprise to all, and who has received tributes from across the political spectrum in Belfast and in Dublin.

Arguably, this performance should have saved him, but it was his perceived disloyalty that confirmed his demise. Smith purportedly threated to resign over Brexit in the autumn of last year, and this is a sin that has not been forgiven.

Others have been loyal, but not necessarily particularly competent at their job, and it’s clearly been the view that it’s time to put some new faces around the table in an attempt to inject some dynamism into these first, crucial months of the new Government.

The Conservatives have a once in a generation opportunity to solidify support in constituencies that only 15 years ago had Labour majorities well north of 10,000: this time cannot be wasted.

Who’s in control?

One of the surprises of the day was the unplanned (or planned?) sacking of the Chancellor. Ordered to fire his six special advisors, Sajid Javid honourably refused, instead falling on his sword.

Prime Ministers have long suffered challenging relationships with the occupants of No.11, with honourable exceptions such as David Cameron and George Osborne. Javid certainly had his run-ins with Dominic Cummings and others in Number 10, holding the traditionally tighter Treasury line on public spending, while Number Ten now wants to loosen the purse strings.

Ultimately, though, this is about control, and Number 10 wants much greater control over the levers of Government. There will now be a joint special adviser unit between it and Number 11 overseeing economic policy – arguably a good idea which should overcome the traditional tensions, especially when the new Chancellor and the Prime Minister trust each other.

Other advisors have also found themselves in the firing line – Peter Cardwell, the Justice Secretary’s media SpAd has been sacked, even though Robert Buckland stayed. Last week, Cummings jokingly told the Friday SpAds meeting that he would ‘see half of you next week’. This week we see advisers being removed from post, a third of them losing their jobs, and Number Ten tightening its grip.

Control can be seized, but can it be sustained? Government produces huge quantities of paperwork, Bills and advice. Number Ten simply cannot be everywhere at once, however much it tries. Too tight a grip removes initiative and the ability for departmental ministers to get on with the job, with everything having to go through the centre, which then becomes a log-jam.  Such a setup is not sustainable in the long-run.

Continuity

Reshuffles happen to provide a sense of renewal, to bring in new talent and boot out the underperforming. Yet they have their downsides as well. There will be some bruised personalities on the backbenches who will need careful managing by the whips over the next few months, and I hear Mark Spencer is already on the job.

One final point worth mentioning is regarding continuity. Sometimes, it works well – George Eustice has been a DEFRA Minister for nearly seven years on and off, and is now promoted to Secretary of State. He knows his brief inside out, and will be effective from day one.

Yet with the sacking of Esther McVey, there have now been ten Housing Ministers in ten years. Equally with Julian Smith going, there have now been four Northern Ireland Secretaries in five years.

We’ve yet to see what happens in the junior ranks, but there must be a greater balance between Ministers becoming effective through time served and understanding the brief, and the need to bring in new talent.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Ben Southwood: Scruton’s final gift – a way to ensure new buildings are beautiful

Ben Southwood is an independent researcher

A tradition of conservative philosophers from Burke through Chesterton to their successor, the late great Sir Roger Scruton, has emphasised the hidden wisdom in the rituals, traditions, laws, and institutions surrounding us. Societies tend to slowly evolve a culture that deals with their problems – shocks can push things out of whack for a time, but cultural norms adapt.

According to a groundbreaking report from the government commission which Scruton chaired, the post-war changes to the UK’s planning regime were another such shock. He suggests a few ingenious tweaks that can make the system work for society again, enhancing beauty while providing housing needs.

Readers of ConHome will probably know the story of Sir Roger’s chairmanship of the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission. Appointed amidst controversy, Scruton was dismissed in April after seeming to make unacceptable remarks in an interview with the New Statesman. It later transpired that those remarks had been misrepresented: the New Statesman apologised and Scruton was reappointed, only to be diagnosed with lung cancer in the very same week.

Scruton poured his remaining energy into finalising the Commission’s report, attending meetings in a wheelchair and working closely on drafting the text with his friend and Co-Chair Nicholas Boys Smith. I am told that he was still working on the finishing details in the final days of his life.

The result of this labour, entitled Living with Beauty, was published this week.  It is a triumphant vindication of Scruton’s appointment and in many ways, a fitting culmination of his life’s work, uniting depth of vision with a wealth of empirical evidence and policy detail on one of the great issues of our time. The fundamental thesis is stated in its introduction:

‘Our proposals aim for long-term investment in which the values that matter to people – beauty, community, history, landscape – are safeguarded. Hence places, not units; high streets, not glass bottles; local design codes, not faceless architecture that could be anywhere’.

The report’s core insight is that beauty is important. The aesthetics of buildings affect others: you are forced to see eyesores whether or not you built them yourself, while you can enjoy beautiful buildings, villages, and towns whose construction you had no part in. Towns have even larger effects on others: if built well, they free their residents with clean air, public commerce in squares and streets, walkable amenities, and the ability to build community through easy resident interaction. If built poorly, ‘green space’ is forbidding and unused, roads are dangerous and tedious to cross, and commerce encourages anonymity rather than interaction.

Beautiful buildings are conserved and adapted, like the Victorian public buildings that survive long after their initial uses have gone. Ugly buildings are torn down and replaced, at a huge cost.

Scruton argues that, in some ways, the Victorian and Edwardian system served this goal well. Rules were simple – with six-storey height limits and rules over design, but not much else. The arrival of new materials, new modes of transport, and new design ideologies changed this. But the report is no paean to the past.

We cannot abolish the car, or work without modern materials, or return to the unthinking belief that there is only one possible style in which to build. Nor ought we to do these things, even if we could. Instead, we must learn to live with the changes that they have wrought, to preserve the many blessings while overcoming or mitigating the difficulties. The solution is not to wish away the modern world, but to work to humanise it.

How, though, to build new traditional towns, given the changes of the 20th century? And how to improve and expand those we already have? And further, how to make sure our cities and suburbs can provide the living space demanded by their larger and richer populations?

Throwing cash at people is not always enough to get the right sort of changes. Even if it were, the main current techniques – Section 106 agreements and the Community Infrastructure Levy – don’t necessarily mean money where the public actually want it, nor do they guarantee the development will improve, rather than worsen, the place overall.

Scruton’s report proposes forty-five tweaks to the current regime to create a structure that allows us to protect and enhance the beauty we are bequeathed plus make our own contributions for posterity. By enshrining beauty, it hopes also to raise faith in the planning system and new developments and create more support for development that ameliorates housing shortages in parts of the country.

One suggestion is removing the distinction in the tax system between demolishing constructing new buildings (which is zero-rated) and improving or adapting old buildings, which faces 20 per cent VAT. A second is that local design codes could be simplified, but based on local tastes and preferences through consultation.

Another could be more transformative. Since 1947, homeowners have been mainly banned from extending their properties as they could before then. The planning system has effectively frozen a particular form of suburbia in place. It has done this by nationalising the ancient right to extend one’s home: even when there is an acute shortage of homes, the planning system effectively bans people from, say, redeveloping their bungalows as five-story Georgian-style terraces. This is one of the root causes of the housing shortage, and of the failure of the twentieth century to reproduce the rich fabric of older cities.

Westlake Legal Group suburb1-scaled Ben Southwood: Scruton’s final gift – a way to ensure new buildings are beautiful Sir Roger Scruton Robert Jenrick MP Planning Localism Local government Jacob Rees-Mogg MP housing Esther McVey MP Create Streets

Westlake Legal Group suburb2-scaled Ben Southwood: Scruton’s final gift – a way to ensure new buildings are beautiful Sir Roger Scruton Robert Jenrick MP Planning Localism Local government Jacob Rees-Mogg MP housing Esther McVey MP Create Streets   This solution of allowing streets to vote on whether residents would all like to have the right to expand their properties, in line with local preferences echoes a recent proposal from Jacob Rees-Mogg, among others.

“The government should investigate ways of facilitating gentle suburban intensification and mixed use, with the consent of local communities [and] allowing individual streets to vote to opt in to limited additional permissions, subject to design codes.”

In time, we can repair areas that have become dilapidated; rejuvenate high streets that have lost custom and strengthen communities.

“In the older areas of English cities, it is still common that one can walk, not only to shops for groceries and household goods, but to primary and secondary schools, a library, a post office, a church, several pubs and cafés, a war memorial and a town hall. Neighbourhoods like this bring well-known health benefits to their residents by encouraging walking. But they also feel different since, to put it simply, they are alive. In these public spaces, strangers become neighbours, and a community is formed.”

In short, the report shows us how this country can be cherished, not bulldozed; enhanced, not uglified or preserved in aspic. Its themes of heritage and community may appeal to conservative minds like those of Robert Jenrick, the Housing Secretary and Esther McVey, the Housing Minister.

So far, Sir Roger’s contribution to Britain’s institutional development has primarily been theoretical. His final gift is more practical. In the post-war period, housing policy was socialist: the state erected concrete slab blocks and master-planned New Towns like Stevenage and Basingstoke. Since the 1980s, the state has stepped back from building new towns or big council blocks, but the housing market has come to be dominated by the likes of Persimmon and Taylor Wimpey.

Scruton’s legacy offers an alternative that will allow people to conserve and improve the places where they live.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

The calm before the reshuffle? Our first Cabinet League Table of 2020

Westlake Legal Group Cabinet-League-Table-Jan-20-1024x955 The calm before the reshuffle? Our first Cabinet League Table of 2020 ToryDiary Thérèse Coffey MP Theresa Villiers MP Steve Barclay MP Simon Hart MP Sajid Javid MP Robert Jenrick MP Robert Buckland MP Rishi Sunak MP Priti Patel MP Paul Davies AM Oliver Dowden MP Natalie Evans (Baroness) Michael Gove MP Matthew Hancock MP Mark Spencer MP Liz Truss MP Kwasi Kwarteng MP Julian Smith MP James Cleverly MP Jake Berry MP Jacob Rees-Mogg MP Highlights Grant Shapps MP Geoffrey Cox MP Gavin Williamson MP Esther McVey MP Dominic Raab MP ConservativeHome Members' Panel Brandon Lewis MP Boris Johnson MP Ben Wallace MP Baroness Morgan Andrea Leadsom MP Alok Sharma MP Alister Jack MP

This is the first Cabinet League Table of 2020. It is also very likely the last before the Prime Minister embarks on his next reshuffle. December saw some stellar scores in the aftermath of that month’s general election victory, and it’s once again a pretty rosy picture. Here are a few takeaways:

  • No change to the podium. There has been some inevitable fluctuation in the specific scores but the top spots are still held by Boris Johnson, Sajid Javid, and Michael Gove.
  • Few women at the top. With rumours that the Prime Minister might be about to dismiss five female Secretaries of State, we note that only Priti Patel makes the top ten this month. Expand the selection and only Andrea Leadsom and Liz Truss make the cut in the top twenty.
  • Another bad month for the territorial offices… Both Alister Jack, the Scottish Secretary, and Simon Hart, the Welsh Secretary, are at the bottom of our table for the second month running.
  • …save for Northern Ireland. But Julian Smith has broken out of that pack, rising to the top half of the table on the back of his role in getting the Northern Ireland Assembly back up and running.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

The calm before the reshuffle? Our first Cabinet League Table of 2020

Westlake Legal Group Cabinet-League-Table-Jan-20-1024x955 The calm before the reshuffle? Our first Cabinet League Table of 2020 ToryDiary Thérèse Coffey MP Theresa Villiers MP Steve Barclay MP Simon Hart MP Sajid Javid MP Robert Jenrick MP Robert Buckland MP Rishi Sunak MP Priti Patel MP Paul Davies AM Oliver Dowden MP Natalie Evans (Baroness) Michael Gove MP Matthew Hancock MP Mark Spencer MP Liz Truss MP Kwasi Kwarteng MP Julian Smith MP James Cleverly MP Jake Berry MP Jacob Rees-Mogg MP Highlights Grant Shapps MP Geoffrey Cox MP Gavin Williamson MP Esther McVey MP Dominic Raab MP ConservativeHome Members' Panel Brandon Lewis MP Boris Johnson MP Ben Wallace MP Baroness Morgan Andrea Leadsom MP Alok Sharma MP Alister Jack MP

This is the first Cabinet League Table of 2020. It is also very likely the last before the Prime Minister embarks on his next reshuffle. December saw some stellar scores in the aftermath of that month’s general election victory, and it’s once again a pretty rosy picture. Here are a few takeaways:

  • No change to the podium. There has been some inevitable fluctuation in the specific scores but the top spots are still held by Boris Johnson, Sajid Javid, and Michael Gove.
  • Few women at the top. With rumours that the Prime Minister might be about to dismiss five female Secretaries of State, we note that only Priti Patel makes the top ten this month. Expand the selection and only Andrea Leadsom and Liz Truss make the cut in the top twenty.
  • Another bad month for the territorial offices… Both Alister Jack, the Scottish Secretary, and Simon Hart, the Welsh Secretary, are at the bottom of our table for the second month running.
  • …save for Northern Ireland. But Julian Smith has broken out of that pack, rising to the top half of the table on the back of his role in getting the Northern Ireland Assembly back up and running.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Triumphator Johnson – our final Cabinet League Table of 2019

Westlake Legal Group Cabinet-League-Table-Dec-19-1024x954 Triumphator Johnson – our final Cabinet League Table of 2019 ToryDiary Thérèse Coffey MP Theresa Villiers MP Steve Barclay MP Simon Hart MP Sajid Javid MP Robert Jenrick MP Robert Buckland MP Rishi Sunak MP Priti Patel MP Paul Davies AM Oliver Dowden MP Natalie Evans (Baroness) Michael Gove MP Matthew Hancock MP Mark Spencer MP Kwasi Kwarteng MP Julian Smith MP James Cleverly MP Jake Berry MP Jacob Rees-Mogg MP Highlights Grant Shapps MP Geoffrey Cox MP Gavin Williamson MP Esther McVey MP Elizabeth Truss MP Dominic Raab MP ConservativeHome Members' Panel Brandon Lewis MP Boris Johnson MP Ben Wallace MP Baroness Morgan Andrea Leadsom MP Alok Sharma MP Alister Jack MP

This is it: the very last Cabinet League Table of 2019 and, unless you’re feeling especially pedantic, the decade. The Conservative Party has been in office, in one form or another, since 2010, and it really is remarkable that it is heading into 2020 with in such apparently strong shape. A few points of note:

  • Election afterglow. As you might expect in the aftermath of this month’s unexpected but decisive electoral triumph, the overall ratings have received a significant boost compared to last month.
  • Johnson just short. Our editor wrote this morning about what the Prime Minister needs to do to match or exceed Margaret Thatcher. But on one metric at least he has yet to top Theresa May, who retains her League Table record by 0.1 points.
  • Gove and Javid hold the podium… Johnson’s soaring to the gold-medal position has obviously shuffled them down but they remain, as they have been consistently, the two top-rated Cabinet ministers beyond the man himself.
  • …as Cox closes in. The Attorney General is now within touching distance of a top-three finish, which is quite a contrast with reports in today’s papers that he might be facing the chop.
  • Poor showing for the Territorial Offices. Is it coincidence that Julian Smith, Alister Jack, and newly-appointed Simon Hart – respectively the Northern Irish, Scottish, and Welsh Secretaries – are all at the bottom of the table?

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

“Get out of London.” Now watch Johnson and Cummings turn the world upside down. Or try to.

“You guys should get outside London and go to talk to people who are not rich Remainers’.” (Dominic Cummings, September 2019.)

– – –

Britain’s political and economic model from Margaret Thatcher through Tony Blair to David Cameron had roughly the following in common.

A dominant capital city, London, with its south-eastern hinterland.  A flourishing City of London.  An economy based on services rather than manufacturing.  A high level of immigration, at least recently, to service its needs – both internally and externally.  Pressure in this wider South East on schools, hospitals, roads, rail, cohesion, and especially the price of housing.

An Ascendancy class of civil servants, lawyers, journalists, academics, and media workers doing well out of this system, whichever of the main parties governed.  Government focus on message and spin to feed the London-based newspapers and media.  A recent Ministerial and Whitehall preoccupation with Parliament, reflecting the unwillingness of voters to elect a government with a strong majority since 2005 – and the increasing rebelliousness of backbenchers.  A currency that some believe to have been overvalued (further reinforcing this system).

Outside this greater South East, a provincial Britain in relative or sometimes absolute recession.  A growing gulf between its view of this system’s success and London’s.  A sense that it has done less well out of the growth of the capital city, the universities, the media, services, the law – and infrastructure spending.  A less favourable view of immigration.  Less expensive housing but also lower wages.  Skills and employment gaps.

– – –

All this is about to change – at least, if a new post-Brexit Conservative Government based broadly on Thursday’s results, serving at least two terms and with Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings in place, has its way.

Perhaps wrongly, I read the briefing in much of Sunday’s papers about the new Government’s intentions as Classic Dom.  In the short to medium term, expect to see the following:

  • Less of a focus on Parliament and the media.  Johnson has a majority of the best part of a hundred.  He won the election despite, even arguably because of, intense media scrutiny, opposition and pressure.  I suspect that the Prime Minister won’t care much what Labour, which is likely to vanish into chaotic opposition for the best part of a year, or the Liberal Democrats, who have just lost their leader, do or say in the Commons, at least for the moment. Furthermore, Philip Hammond, Rory Stewart, David Gauke, Amber Rudd, Oliver Letwin, Dominic Grieve* and his most persistent critics are no longer there.  And Cummings won’t be remotely flustered by what’s said on a Today programme or a Newsnight or by an Andrew Neil that, in his view, only the Westminster Village bubble is bothered about.
  • A Government restructuring to concentrate on delivery.  Johnson and Cummings thus won’t worry too much if Ministers flounder in the Commons or TV studios – at least in the early part of this Parliament.  They will want delivery, delivery, delivery for the new blue seats in the Midlands and North.  That will mean tearing up the Government reshaping undertaken by Nick Timothy for Theresa May and starting all over again.  Briefing that Business and Trade will be amalgamated; that the Environment and Climate Change, a Johnson and Carrie Symonds preoccupation, will again have its own department, and that the Foreign Office will absorb much of DfId sounds about right.  A post-January post-Brexit reshuffle will reveal all.
  • Ministers appointed to govern rather than perform.  Monday’s reshuffle will see gaps filled at Culture – which will have an important role with regard to digital and the media – and Wales.  I expect the bigger January shuffle to see Cabinet Ministers appointed who Number Ten expects to work with outsiders to transform Whitehall.  There will be a big emphasis on NHS spending, police numbers, border control, northern infrastructure, skills and, maybe especially, Cummings’ spoor: the words “Invest in Science”.The sort of names to look out for include Matt Hancock, Rishi Sunak, Oliver Dowden, Robert Jenrick, Jesse Norman, maybe Chris Skidmore and the rehabilitated Michael Gove.
  • Expect the unexpected.  All those are men.  Johnson will want to appoint a lot of women – an intention made all the more intriguing by the fact that many of the Ministers currently being tipped for the sack are female.  The most senior women outside Cabinet itself are Esther McVey, Caroline Dinenage and Lucy Frazer, who could easily slot into one of the Law Officer posts.  But there is no way of knowing what Johnson, Cummings, Downing Street and the Whips will come up with. And other names in the mix include Victoria Atkins, Anne-Marie Trevelyan and a revitalised Penny Mordaunt.  Cummings’ instinct will be to bring in good outsiders as Ministers and promote quickly from the massive new intake of Tory MPs if necessary – over the head of convention and perhaps advice.

There are some oddities about bits of the briefing, or at least parts of what’s being written.  For example, if a new department for Borders and Security is to be set up, what becomes of the Home Office – which under the Theresa May/Timothy reforms became a department for security and borders?  Is it to be amalgamated once again with the Justice Department?  Might Johnson want to mull reviving an updated Lord Chancellor’s department?

And if the SNP is to campaign for a second independence referendum, with Northern Ireland undergoing huge post-Brexit change, wouldn’t it make sense to have a Secretary of State and department for the Union – perhaps headed by the ubiquitious Gove?  What becomed of the traditional power of the Treasury?

Finally, Johnson could do all the restructuring and appointing available to him with his near three-figure majority…and find that the economic and political model he inherited is too entrenched to be shifted.  Because the commanding heights of our culture have so big a stake in it that they won’t willingly let it go.  Buy your ringside seat now for the clash between the Ascendancy’s instincts and Cummings’ Nietzschean plans. With Johnson refereeing.

– – –

* Mr Grieve…we’ll see what he is right about.” (Cummings, August 2019.)

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Javid keeps the gold but Johnson and Rees-Mogg fail to medal in our Cabinet League Table

Westlake Legal Group Cabinet-League-Table-Sep-19-1024x956 Javid keeps the gold but Johnson and Rees-Mogg fail to medal in our Cabinet League Table ToryDiary Thérèse Coffey MP Theresa Villiers MP Steve Barclay MP Sajid Javid MP Robert Jenrick MP Robert Buckland MP Rishi Sunak MP Priti Patel MP Paul Davies AM Oliver Dowden MP Nicky Morgan MP Natalie Evans (Baroness) Michael Gove MP Matthew Hancock MP Mark Spencer MP Liz Truss MP Kwasi Kwarteng MP Julian Smith MP James Cleverly MP Jake Berry MP Jacob Rees-Mogg MP Grant Shapps MP Geoffrey Cox MP Gavin Williamson MP Esther McVey MP Elizabeth Truss MP Dominic Raab MP ConservativeHome Members' Panel Brandon Lewis MP Boris Johnson MP Ben Wallace MP Andrea Leadsom MP Alun Cairns MP Alok Sharma MP Alister Jack MP

Another month in and once again the Johnson Ministry appears to be holding fairly steady in the affections of grassroots activists.

There has been a slight downward drift, illustrated by the top scores no longer breaking the plus-80 barrier, but there are no ministers with negative scores and compared to the tail end of Theresa May’s time in office these are healthy scores.

Yet is it the calm before the storm? We are now only a month away from the October 31 Brexit deadline, which the Prime Minister insists he’s going to meet but nobody can really see how he can. Our next survey will be conducted as he runs into that tempest – it will be interesting to see what affect it has.

A few details:

  • Javid gold again… The Chancellor has seen his score slip a little but, as that is in line with the overall trend, he remains the most popular member of the Government amongst party members for the third month in a row.
  • …as Johnson slips… Last month the Prime Minister was ranked second by our panellists and just a couple of points shy of Javid. This month he slips to sixth after losing more than 12 points. Is this simply a response to various stories this month, or a foretaste of a backlash next month?
  • …and Rees-Mogg stumbles. It’s been an even worse month for the Leader of the House, who has fallen from a bronze-medal position last month to 11th place now after a fall of almost 15 points.
  • …but Brexiteers benefit. The beneficiaries of the above moves are principally Michael Gove, Geoffrey Cox, Dominic Raab, and Stephen Barclay. It is not until Liz Truss, in tenth position, that we find a Remainer.
  • Two departures. It’s goodbye to Amber Rudd and Jo Johnson, who both resigned from the Cabinet this month, and hello to Thérèse Coffey, who takes over from Rudd at Work & Pensions. Johnson’s successor, Chris Skidmore, is not attending Cabinet.
  • Wallace rebounds. Last month we asked what might have caused the Defence Secretary to suddenly slump to near the bottom of the table. Whatever it was, it’s passed – he’s now just below Rees-Mogg after gaining 20 points.

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McVey makes wider home ownership central to the Tory mission again

Esther McVey used to be the Work and Pensions Secretary until she resigned last year. She is now back in Government as the Minister of State for Housing and Planning. Supposedly, that is a demotion. But surely her new job is trickier and more important. For all the controversy about the welfare reforms, they are in place and proving effective. When it comes to wider home ownership, that central Tory mission, there have been some tentative signs of progress. Yet the fundamental problem with the housing market remains. It isn’t really a market. Supply is artficially constrained by the state. So increased demand just pushes up prices. The planning system has also managed to ensure that usually what new building is allowed looks awful. This understandably strengthens the anti-development lobby, the NIMBYS, making the shortage even worse. Solid economic growth would help with many of the Government’s objectives – being able to afford increased spending on public services while also cutting tax. However, the experience of recent decades has been that periods of growth might have resulted in an abundance of many things this has not included homes. While everything else has become more affordable, housing has become less affordable.

In her first speech as Housing Minister, last week in Newport, McVey was clear that “we have to tackle this Great British housing building problem.” She said:

“Too many people feel that vital link between hard-work and owning their own home is broken. And when that link is severed, social mobility and opportunity falls away.

For so many people in our public sector, like our nurses and our teachers, like our police, owning their own home feels like the dream that has been taken away from them.

This is not right, they are the backbone of our country. They deserve a home of their own and they are looking to us to see what we can do. They are looking to us to fix it like we look to them to teach our kids like we look to them when we need healthcare, to look after us. They’re looking to us now to return that favour and look after them.

So, that’s 300,000 more homes a year to build. Each and every year.

Now we’re getting closer to that target – we’re building more, more than before. In fact last year we built more homes than in every year bar one in the last 31 years.

In Greater Manchester, the number of extra homes built is rising by more than 12 per cent.

In Birmingham, it’s rising by 80 per cent.

Only in London, have the number of new homes fallen.

While the trend is heading upwards, I’ve found there’s still serious barriers stopping that progress unnecessarily, and we need to understand what those barriers are, understand what is getting in our way so we can remove them.

We also need to focus on Brownfield sites – what are we doing there? Are we doing enough there? Are we building enough homes there? Regeneration must be something we should be most proud of, turning round, I call it, unloved land.”

If we accept that the issue is supply rather than demand, then it follows that the “Help to Buy” scheme won’t work. It will certainly have helped some people – but overall have pumped up prices even more and so been unhelpful to others. Theer was a hint in McVey’s speech acknowledging this:

“There is a limit to what Government can do, for example, Help to Buy is precisely that. It is helping people to buy, it is not helping somebody to make a profit, it is not helping to increase the prices of property. It is about helping people to buy.

“So this Government will be vigilant about what is working, keeping an eye on our goal. That is a shared goal, helping people into a home and into home ownership.”

There were some specifics concerning the modest changes announced so far:

“We’ve looked at ownership models, so making Shared Ownership more accessible for working families. We’ve started that already so buyers can have a staircase of one per cent increases rather than ten per cent leaps.

 We’re going to look to expand Shared Ownership, supporting it in different ways, taking out what we hear to be the difficulties of it, the expense of it. It shouldn’t be unfair for those trying to get onto the housing market.

And Rent to Buy, so people can rent knowing that they are going to buy, knowing that they’ve got a bit of breathing space, maybe it’s in five years, maybe it’s in ten years, but they will get to own that property –  so they can plan, knowing they have the certainty of getting a deposit and getting that house.

 And Right to Build, so many places around the world have far more people building their own homes, so we’re going to be there, whether its support for Right to Buy or Right to Build.”

This was a speech which championed home ownership:

“A dream that the vast majority of the public still have and continue to have.

And why is that? It’s about having a stake in society, it’s about having security, it is about aspiration, it is actually about freedom. It’s about financial security, and it’s about safety for you and your family and it provides people with a real stake in their community.”

She also balanced the statistics about recent achievements by saying:

“It is a scandal, possibly the greatest scandal over the last 30 years that we’ve had a shortage in houses. And that has led, as we know, to a rise in renting and costs, and to a fall in home ownership which has destroyed the aspiration of a generation of working people.”

So this was her starting point. A statement of intent. After the depressing messages from some of her predecessors, this is welcome. I look forward to the Party Conference and the election manifesto to see if it will be followed by the specific radical policies required. Mine would include a much bolder offer on shared ownership, an end to state land banking, zero VAT for the renovation of old buildings, and delivering on the right to buy for housing association tenants which has already been promised. And above all, to have a presumption in favour of allowing development (including in the Green Belt), provided it adhered to local design codes that had popular consent, which could give confidence that what went up would be beautiful.

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