Britain doesn’t just have a new Prime Minister. Yesterday’s Cabinet reshuffle makes it clear that we now have a new government, with a very different set of priorities.
The composition of the Cabinet tells us a lot about Boris Johnson’s attitude towards an election.
Faced with the narrowest of majorities in the House of Commons, if Johnson feared an early election, he would have put together a broad church Cabinet designed to keep the show on the road for as long as possible. Survival from one week to the next would be the strategy.
Instead, Boris unveiled an unambiguously Leave-supporting Cabinet – with Dominic Raab as Foreign Secretary, Priti Patel at the Home Office and roles for Esther McVey, Andrea Leadsom and Jacob Rees-Mogg, the new Leader of the Commons.
Far from clinging to office and avoiding the electorate, the Johnson strategy is clearly to make good Britain’s departure from the EU in fifteen weeks’ time – and then face the electorate soon after.
For the first time since the EU referendum three years ago, the UK has a government unambiguously prepared to deliver what the electorate asked for. Michael Gove, Boris’ co-leader of the Leave campaign, has been given a roving role across Whitehall to prepare the country for a no deal departure, should it be necessary. He will now attempt to do in 90-something days what Mrs May neglected to do over three years.
Three years ago, the electorate voted – by a million strong majority – for a profound change in the UK’s relationship with the EU. Far from acting on that instruction, those in government, not only May era ministers but the senior civil service, have done everything possible to keep things the way they are. Yesterday marks the moment when that begins to change.
Not only are many of those that ran the Vote Leave campaign now in power. They entered office yesterday with an appreciation that they perhaps did not have three years ago; if Britain is to become a self-governing country once again, we need to radically overhaul the way we are governed.
Government departments as currently constituted just aren’t up to it. They are often dysfunctional, as set up to fail, and full of those marinaded in group-think. Too many civil servants are rewarded for serving time, rather than delivering successful projects.
The one person who understands this better than anyone is Dominic Cummings, formerly Vote Leave’s chief strategist, and now the de facto chief executive of the Downing Street operation. Dominic, unlike many that opine on the subject, has a clear idea of what needs to be done to prepare for the possibility of a No Deal departure. He has, too, the drive and intellect to overcome the inevitable intransigence of the senior civil service.
Beyond those first 90-something days, he has a sense of the wider change required in the way we are governed.
Dom brings with him into Number 10 an effective team, too. The Vote Leave operation that now runs Downing Street is not only extremely competent and motivated, they are in my experience extraordinarily cohesive, too. I doubt Downing Street has ever seen anything like it.
Unlike almost everyone in the Westminster/Whitehall bubble, Dominic understands that the media narrative in politics is more often than not a work of fiction. Broadcasters and professional pundits are utterly out of touch with ordinary voters. He has the clarity of thought and confidence to look beyond the nonsense that the press lobby spew, and focus on the swing voters that decide election outcomes.
Getting us out of the EU at the end of October, defeating Corbyn in an election soon afterwards, and then transforming the administrative state. Any one of those would be a tall order. But I believe that each of those is now a perfectly possible outcome.
Yesterday, the outsiders came in – and they may well just turn the way we are governed inside out, too.
For the first time in a generation, we have a Tory government determined to change the status quo, rather than be part of it. Which is why this week might just prove to be one of those watershed moments in our country’s history.
Future generations might just look back at July 2019 – the way we today view May 1979 when Margaret Thatcher took office, or July 1945, when Clement Attlee came to power – and realise that it that was the moment when things were never quite the same again.
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