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Westlake Legal Group > Posts tagged "Francis Maude MP"

Henry Newman: Cummings understands the need to drastically reform Whitehall

Henry Newman is Director of Open Europe.

Hardball. That seems to be the Brexit strategy coming out of Downing Street since Boris Johnson’s arrival on Wednesday afternoon. It is full speed ahead on No Deal preparations. The new Government still maintains it wants to reach an agreement but is demanding Brussels drops the backstop before a new deal could be agreed. There is no sign of a retreat from the 31st October hard deadline.

The arrival of the Vote Leave supremo Dominic Cummings has sent a very loud signal – this administration means business. If there wasn’t a clear Brexit plan for Boris Johnson’s leadership campaign, one is being hammered out right now. And alongside it an overall programme of domestic reforms, some of which were previewed on Thursday in the Commons as the new Prime Minister’s “golden age”.

It’s being suggested that under Johnson and Cummings, Downing Street has been put on full election footing. Perhaps. (Anyway, it’s no secret that the Conservatives’ grip on power could evaporate at any point, so preparing for an election would be prudent).

But more fundamentally Downing Street is showing signs that it’s going to treat politics and governing as a continual campaign. That’s perfectly sensible. Many of the problems Theresa May faced since the 2017 election resulted from her seeming inability to persuade people to get behind what she was doing.

Away from the public-facing side of Government, Cummings is one of only a few political advisers who understands the importance of, and is truly committed to, reforming the Whitehall machine. I worked with another, Simone (now Baroness) Finn, in the Cabinet Office between 2012 and 2015.

As special advisers to Francis Maude (then the Minister for the Cabinet Office), Finn and I helped design and push forward a programme of Whitehall reform. It wasn’t about moving away from the Northcote–Trevelyan system of a non-political civil service, it was about making the machine work more effectively. At the time the big challenge was austerity – could you save money and yet provide better public services? Now the challenge is Brexit.

Although Maude’s reforms had the support of many civil servants, we faced strong internal resistance. We made some progress, but things stalled when Maude was moved to the post of Trade Minister and were further unwound once Theresa May took over. Bafflingly, steps to strengthen the teams around ministers were reversed in late 2016.

You sometimes hear that with the demands of Brexit, there’s no capacity for other reforms or to look at ‘plumbing’ issues. But Whitehall reform should not be seen as an optional add-on or a nice to have extra. It’s crucial to delivering an effective Brexit and to making the most of the opportunities that leaving the EU presents. Nick Herbert’s think tank GovernUp have produced some strong ideas for how the new Prime Minister should reform the system. They should be required reading for the new Downing Street team.

Delivering Brexit in fewer than 100 days is the ultimate challenge for Johnson if he is not to become the third successive Prime Minister to be forced from office by the Europe problem. Johnson insists that he favours a deal but without what he describes as the “anti-democratic” backstop. For the EU’s part, Brussels has only offered to shift the non-binding parts of the Brexit deal – the Political Declaration. It’s hard to see that washing either with the new administration or with MPs.

The first phone call with the outgoing European Commission President on Thursday afternoon ended with a mutual exchange of mobile numbers but little progress on Brexit. Jean-Claude Juncker insisted that the withdrawal agreement is the “best and only” agreement possible. The new Prime Minister quite reasonably argued that the deal in its current form stood no chance of passing the Commons. For now, it’s a stalemate.

Brussels left a hint of some wiggle room, particularly if the European Council chose to revise the guidelines which dictate what the Commission’s negotiating team can and cannot do. But the leaders of European Governments aren’t expected to meet until late October – just a fortnight before Britain’s departure is scheduled. So far they are all sticking rigidly to their formula that there’s no possible deal without a backstop.

Unsurprisingly Brussels is already ramping up the blame game, accusing Johnson of bombast and bullying. Some analysts suggest he is planning a snap election; others that he is deliberately making impossible demands so as to have little choice but to deliver the No Deal which they believe he wants anyway.

European capitals typically ignore the irony of the current Brexit impasse. They don’t acknowledge the absurdity that Ireland could face a potential hard border on 31st October precisely because of a failure to agree an insurance policy to stop the border becoming hard at some point in the future.

Across Europe, there’s a general sense of exasperation with Britain and Brexit. (We are also quite familiar with Brexit fatigue here in the UK!) But at the same time, I’ve also heard some diplomats and senior advisers tell me privately that they recognise that things can’t go on exactly as they are. They understand that a deal can only work if it can pass the Commons and the current deal has no chance of doing that.

Where does all that take us? We are left facing the exact same choices that we have all the way through – a deal, no deal, or no Brexit. But the difference seems to be now that, despite all the difficulties, the Number 10 machine and Whitehall will be pressed to do whatever it takes to prepare for a possible No Deal.

After all, No Deal remains the legal default for which four-fifths of MPs voted back in 2017 when they endorsed the triggering of Article 50. No Deal could well mean significant disruption, only some of which can be mitigated through unilateral actions. It’s important to be honest about that. But it’s also the case that the medium-term economic impacts of No Deal have been over-stated by critics.

If there is to be a No Deal, the Government will need to do everything possible to prepare Whitehall and businesses to reduce disruption. But they should also look at far wider tax, regulatory and legislative changes to make the best of the situation. Open Europe will have more recommendations in our No Deal Action Plan, out soon.

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

Greg Hands: The Party Leader must be far more accountable to Conservative MPs

Greg Hands is MP for Chelsea and Fulham

I suspect that the coming leadership election will focus on Brexit, the right balance between cutting taxes, reducing debt and raising spending in a post-Deficit Britain, and on personality and leadership issues.

I was a member of the Parliamentary Party in the last two leadership contests: in 2005, the focus was very much on Party modernisation, but in 2016, for very obvious reasons, the focus was on Brexit. David Cameron achieved a great deal in bringing the Party up to date. When I was first elected an MP in 2005, I was joined by only two minority MPs and only around ten per cent were women. Both figures are astonishing in 2019. Party finances, structures and selections have been brought more up to date, with excellent work from Party Chairmen like Francis Maude, Andrew Feldman and Grant Shapps, amongst others.

But one crucial aspect of the Conservative Party has not been reformed since, well, probably 1922 itself: the functioning of the Parliamentary Party itself. This is not an attack on the 1922 Committee – far from it, I am calling for an increased role for it. The problem is essentially twofold: there is too little sense of common purpose and there is far too little interaction with the Party Leader. Both are linked.

In my 14 years as an MP, I still find it incredible that the Party Leader appears before his or her MPs generally only three times a year, typically for an “end of term address” for 10-15 minutes, with no questions. I don’t know of any other mainstream political party that operates on this basis. Angela Merkel appears before her CDU/CSU parliamentary group generally every sitting week to comment on coming business and to answer questions from rank and file MPs. Even Jeremy Corbyn, who has had a difficult relationship with his Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP), is there most weeks.

Furthermore, no account was made of the new realities of the situation facing the Parliamentary Party as it went into coalition in 2010, or having a wafer-thin majority in 2015, or no majority at all from 2017. The structures remained unchanged. Both David Cameron and Theresa May have suffered from this physical inability to get their message across to their own Party, and the situation has gotten worse, not better.

Nobody would run anything the way that we do. The mechanism of an end of term address belongs to a bygone age, where the Leader’s power was almost absolute, especially when in government. The Whips would enforce for the rest of the term. Nobody would run a modern business like this, with the CEO doing a floor walk or addressing the workforce only three times a year.

Modern MPs expect to be of more influence. Being unable to interact with the Leader in a mature way, and to ask questions at a private meeting, would reduce the recent practice of Conservative MPs using PMQs to express their unhappiness with government policy or the Leader in a way that was rarely the case before 2010. I sincerely believe that if MPs were given a more genuine opportunity to question their Leader, we would have less airing of our dirty laundry in public.

This can all be done under the auspices of the existing 1922 Committee structure. Sir Graham Brady would chair the meeting, and having the Leader available to answer questions would increase attendance and increase the power of the 1922 Chairman.

Some reform was attempted under David Cameron, but this was approached in the wrong way. Cameron held regular Parliamentary Party meetings in Opposition, 2005-2010, chaired by the Chief Whip. These were seen as an attempt to circumvent the 1922 Committee, and created bad feeling. Added to this was the botched attempt by Cameron, badly advised by Sir John Major, to reform the 1922 Committee itself to allow ministers into it. All of this was wholly unnecessary. I strongly maintain that the existing 1922 structure should have the sole prerogative, but should feature an address from, and questions to, the Leader as well.

It couldn’t come a moment too soon. The lack of proper interaction with the Party Leader is damaging our party – particularly when in Government, where the civil service dislikes this kind of unregulated interaction when they aren’t in the room.

Further, social media has exacerbated the problem. Nobody wants to wait until “the end of term” to vent their unhappiness with the Leader or seek to influence policy. Nowadays, WhatsApp groups or, even worse, Twitter provide a more immediate outlet and can be more effective. The Leader, of course, isn’t going to be checking WhatsApps or even managing their own Twitter account.

The problem was already apparent under David Cameron. It has become more acute still under Theresa May. Our next Leader must sit down with Sir Graham Brady and find a new way forward to make him- or herself more accountable and to provide the leadership that our Parliamentary Party so richly deserves.

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