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Well done, Jo Johnson – but, sadly, there aren't enough jobs for the rest of the 2010 intake

By Andrew Gimson
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How astute of David Cameron to make Jo Johnson the head of his policy unit, and to ask some other backbenchers to contribute to policy. As Tim Montgomerie noted here earlier today, the Prime Minister may at last be starting to get his Downing Street machine into shape.

The 2010 Tory intake is exceptionally gifted, which for the long-term health of the party, and of Parliament, is a very good thing. It is more than likely that the next or next-but-one leader of the Conservatives will be chosen from among these men and women of ability.

But, in the short term, it is very difficult to find enough for these newcomers to do. As an MP, it is easy to fill or overfill your time with engagements of small importance, but can be hard to find work of real significance. Westminster is full of men and women who have taken great trouble to get there, and discover on arrival that they do not matter at all.

When Jo Johnson's older brother, Boris Johnson, announced he was going to run for Mayor of London, he occupied the modest post of shadow spokesman on higher education, a role from which Cameron had declined to promote him.

On 2 July 2007, Cameron reshuffled his team of shadow ministers, in order to align them with the team announced by Gordon Brown, who had just become Prime Minister. But the plum job of shadowing Brown's right-hand man, Ed Balls, who had been rewarded with the new post of Secretary of State for Children, Families and Schools, went to Michael Gove.

This appointment has been fully vindicated by events: Gove is now a successful minister, and can defy the educational establishment, because on taking office he already knew his portfolio. And from a Tory point of view, it may also have been a good thing that Boris went off to fight Ken Livingstone. To this day, it is hard to think of another candidate who could have won that contest. 

But the point I am trying to make is that there are never enough interesting jobs to go round. This is as it should be: we need able, independent-minded MPs who can devote their time to holding the executive to account. The problem is that so few members of the 2010 intake entered politics with this as the summit of their ambition.

I doubt very much whether Jo Johnson would have found such an existence tolerable. He strikes me as a man of government, so in his case I think it fortunate he has been given a job where he will learn how government works, or doesn't work.


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