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Cameron's Government Of All the Talents

Jones, sir digby Interesting piece by Lord Digby Jones in the Mail on Sunday about his brief experience of government.  His key points include...

  • How can Jacqui Smith with no experience of running anything in her previous life have expected to master a department like the Home Office?  He writes: "Jacqui Smith is a good woman, trying to change the world for the better as she sees it. But expecting her to deliver in the post of Home Secretary without a scintilla of experience or training was not only unfair on her but damaging to us all."
  • Government ministers are expected to do too much: "No other major developed economy demands so much of their Ministers. All have constituencies and re-election to worry about. All have to deal with the highly centralised control-freakery of No10, something started by the Thatcher administration and happily continued by her successors... My Red Box was full every night, often with documents to sign that I had never seen before. I was expected to take responsibility for matters in which I had had absolutely no involvement."
  • Gordon Brown's 'GOATS' experiment was on to something important: "Since becoming Prime Minister, Gordon Brown has done some things badly and some well. One thing he did recognise was that the current system of delivery of services did not work and he introduced his GOATS.  By introducing specialists such as Alan West from the Royal Navy into Security, Ara Darzi from the surgeon’s table into Health, Mark Malloch-Brown from the United Nations into the Foreign Office and me from the CBI into overseas trade and investment promotion, he was not only on to a good thing but he had the courage to face down his own party and other vested interests to do it... Let us have senior Ministers who are skilled in the field in which they are asked to operate."
  • Civil servants are too risk averse: Jones quotes the greeting he received from one civil servant: "‘I know you intend to do things differently round here,’ he said, ‘but just remember you’ll be gone in a couple of years while we all have careers to build and no one here is going to harm his or her career for the sake of this new idea.’"
  • There are too many MPs: "Let us have fewer of them. India, with a billion people, has recently elected just 500 MPs to serve them. We have 675 to serve just 60million."

David Cameron will enter government with a very inexperienced ministerial team.  Of existing frontbenchers only Alistair Burt, Ken Clarke, Liam Fox, William Hague, Francis Maude, Andrew Mitchell and David Willetts have held government posts (Oops! 11.30am correction: I missed Simon Burns, James Clappison, Cheryl Gillan and Patrick McLoughlin from my list).  What should he do?  Some quick thoughts:

  • HOWARD-MICHAEL Bring some of the most successful ministers from the Major era into his government (at least for the first couple of years while inexperienced Tory frontbenchers are finding their way).  My top two nominations would be Peter Lilley and Michael Howard.  Both ran huge departments in the mid-1990s and did so successfully.  See earlier ToryDiary discussion.
  • Encourage a couple of leaders of Tory local government to undertake big roles.  Boris' best recent decision was to appoint Sir Simon Milton as his Chief of Staff.  Sir Simon's experience of running Westminster will prove invaluable to London's Mayor.  Could Cameron entice Stephen Greenhalgh, Merrill Cockell or other successful Tory leaders of local government into his team?
  • Don't undertake massive reorganisations of Whitehall.  These are hugely distracting for civil servants and ministers.  There is likely to be a merger of the Downing Street offices of George Osborne and David Cameron and a likely new Ministry of Social Justice but I hope there won't be that much more.
  • WILLETTS-DAVID-SOCC Don't reshuffle without very good reason.  Cameron's instincts are against reshuffling.  He rightly likes his frontbench to become masters of their briefs.  Lansley and Mitchell are the best examples of this at a shadow cabinet level but there are many 'Indispensables' at more junior levels.  Nick Gibb at schools, for example.  John Hayes at skills.  Gerald Howarth and Julian Lewis at defence.  Greg Barker at climate change.  Tim Loughton on children.  Paul Goodman on community cohesion (give the man a peerage!).  If he was wise he would move David Willetts back to W&P once he's elected.  No frontbencher knows more about this brief than 'Two Brains'.
  • Make lots of political appointments to government departments.  As blogged previously, political appointments throughout key departments are vital to push, push and push the bureaucracy to do what is necessary.  By political appointments I mean people who ministers can trust 100% to implement their wishes.  These appointments should be of people with executive experience.
  • MAUDE-ON-POLITICS-SHOW Start early and focus.  Don't waste a moment to get cracking on priorities.  The Boles/Maude Implementation Unit is working hard with shadow ministers to ensure they are ready to hit the ground running.  Gove's school initiative will be legislative priority number one.  Also expect decentralisation, help for the family, and reforms to prisons and welfare to figure prominently.  The Conservative government shouldn't aim to do too much, too quickly.  It may want an exciting 'First 100 Days' but Whitehall will not easily cope with a blizzard of initiatives.
  • Invest in ministers and potential ministers.  If you haven't read it yet do read Christina Dykes' excellent piece on the vital importance of giving politicians skills training. 
  • Talk to Blair/Brown era ministers/advisers.  This may be uncomfortable politically but should also provide insights into the strengths of various departments and which kinds of initiatives worked best and least well.  It would be great if we could avoid making the same mistakes that Blair/Brown made in their attempts to handle the Whitehall machine. 
  • Start giving power away and delivering transparency.  Better government is impossible (long-term) in our centralised, opaque system.  

Tim Montgomerie

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