12 Jan 2018 at 13:36
“It’s all going terribly well, isn’t it?” was my opener to a friend in Downing Street on the afternoon of the Cabinet reshuffle. I was going to devote this whole column to an in-depth analysis of the reshuffle but I think enough has been said already. Paul Goodman’s analysis on Wednesday said it all. If you go into a reshuffle with an absence of a plan or a narrative, don’t be surprised if it blows up in your face. If you’re trying to relaunch your government with a fresh image, at least have an idea of the headlines you’d like to see in the next day’s papers. If you want it to run smoothly, it might be an idea to choreograph it in advance.
Why on earth did it come as a surprise to Theresa May that Jeremy Hunt wanted to stay at Health, and had several good reasons for doing so? The accusations that it was all about window dressing have stuck, and it’s no surprise as to why. This could have been the reshuffle that showed a real breakthrough for women, yet the number of women who are full cabinet members hasn’t increased. OK, there are two more who “attend”. Big deal. This could have been the reshuffle that really signalled the government’s intent to put housing at the top of its priority list. However, rather than create a new, separate housing ministry, they’ve just altered the letterhead at the DCLG and it becomes the DHCLG, with Sajid Javid having exactly the same responsibilities as before. A lot of Conservatives were rather excited on Monday morning at what was to come. By the end of the day they were left feeling rather flat. Or worse.
What is it that is preventing Kwasi Kwarteng from being promoted to office? I scratch my head and cannot come up with a single reason. He’s clever, erudite, writes like a dream and is brilliant on the media, and yet he still languishes on the backbenches. A total mystery.
The new party chairman Brandon Lewis joined me for a phone-in on LBC only 48 hours or so after he had been appointed. It was a brave decision for a politician now thrust into the limelight and of whom much is expected. He had a tricky start with calls from two Conservative activists who were distinctly unhappy at the way things are going. One made clear he wanted Theresa May out before the next election. You learn a lot about how politicians handle themselves in this kind of arena, but Lewis shone. He approached every question with good humour and had I been a listener rather than his interlocutor I think I’d have found it all a good and refreshing listen.
There are two types of party chairmen – those like Norman Tebbit who act as a lightning rod for their prime minister and take the fight to the opposition and to the media, and then there are those who are fairly anonymous and who regard their main task as saying nothing to offend anyone. Brandon Lewis is a more ebullient version of Norman Tebbit. He clearly knows the size of the task ahead of him, but the question is: can he overcome the inertia that is inherent in the upper echelons of the voluntary party and introduce real reform designed to galvanise the recruitment of a new generation of younger, motivated activists?
I was disappointed that there was no place found for Jacob Rees-Mogg in the reshuffle. Sometimes politicians need to be allowed to prove themselves in office, rather than continue to cultivate a cult through the media. JRM is hugely talented and those talents need to be exploited. Even if he wasn’t to be made a minister, some sort of Vice Chairman role at CCHQ could surely have been found. Alternatively, a junior ministerial role at the Department of Work and Pensions would have been an ideal starting point for him to start the climb up the greasy pole. After all, Margaret Thatcher started her career as a junior pensions minister…
Please don’t think badly of me for continuing to be fascinated by this series of Celebrity Big Brother. It’s mainly because of Ann Widdecombe, it has to be said, as well as Rachel Johnson who is developing into the Mother of the House. Ann has even resorted to flirting with the stunningly good looking former Apprentice contestant Andrew Grady. I certainly can’t blame her for that, but it’s good to see her finally entering into the spirit of the programme rather than remain in a seemingly permanent ‘grump’. She’s very good at ‘grumping’, is our Anne.
This week I’ve published a book by former Enfield North MP Nick de Bois. It’s called ‘Confessions of a Recovering MP’ and details what it’s like to work in the Westminster hot-house and how an MP copes with losing his seat. It’s a very funny book and has had the highest rate of website pre-orders of any book Biteback has ever published. Treat yourself. It’s a cracking read.
Well hold the front page. Tim Farron has finally admitted what we all knew – that he didn’t mean a word of it when in the general election campaign he was forced to say that he didn’t consider gay sex a sin. It’s the sort of thing that really gets politicians a bad name. As Eden Cavalry put it on Twitter – “Gay sex is a sin. It says so in this book where snakes talk, people come back from the dead, a guy walks on water, and a virgin has a baby.”
There was a lot of media fuss about the new army recruitment adverts aimed at gays and muslims this week. I won’t go into that here, but I was horrified to learn that army recruitment has now been contracted out to Capita, or ‘Crapita’ as it now usually known. As usual they are making a total pigs ear of it. I’m all in favour of some government functions being taken over by the private sector where it makes sense, but can anyone name a single area where Capita has got involved that has resulted in a better service and where they have given better value for money? No, thought not. I hope Gavin Williamson will look again at their contract and take them to task for the fact that they continually lose applications from army recruits, take months to process applications and fail to get back to people when they say they will.