“The whole art of government consists in the art of being honest.”
It has been described as a swift and brutal process, and last week demonstrated why. Within two days of Boris being declared winner, Theresa May, David Gauke, Greg Clark and Gavin Barwell were watching the cricket, while the new Government was being formed.
It’s a ministerial team which speaks of action, with a clear undertaking from each to carry through Boris’s plan for Brexit by 31st October. Some claim that it’s a shift to the right, but I would disagree. However they do mean business. It’s a tough and uncompromising team, to deal with a tough and uncompromising European Commission. After months of near anarchy in the House of Commons, it provides a clear and, I believe, honest sense of direction.
There’s also plenty of focus on what needs to be done here in the United Kingdom, and I am confident that from policing to education, from transport to the Treasury, things will start moving swiftly. Plus - the CBI has very helpfully published a checklist of what’s to be done in case that ‘no-deal’ scenario does arise.
So in this commentary we look at some of the departments where you should expect to see action during the summer, and at some of the opportunities for change.
Of course Brexit will take centre stage over the next three months, and we can already see people across Europe adjusting to the new reality. As we have said in this commentary, the key to unlocking the stand-off is Ireland; and, whatever is said in public, Leo Varadkar will be working hard to reach an acceptable accommodation with the Democratic Unionists. He’s already accepted that under ‘no deal’ there’ll be no border between North and South, and the promise of a massive EU ‘Marshall plan’ aid package for the Republic shows how serious a ‘no deal’ outcome would be for Ireland. They will back down, and Boris is right to play hard ball on the backstop.
Many of the early UK domestic pronouncements are designed to support this tough, uncompromising stance: loosening the purse strings at HM Treasury, additional police, placing Michael Gove in charge of ‘no deal’ preparations - these provide sensible positioning for the months ahead, and the ministerial team has been carefully hand-picked for delivery rather than histrionics.
Sajid Javid will be excellent at the Treasury; Liz Truss is just the right choice for International Trade; meanwhile Priti Patel will give confidence to many communities, and a message of integration, and in this respect it is helpful that Boris has spoken positively of a sensible approach to immigration. It is also good to see a new face at Transport, Grant Shapps, and Andrea Leadsom is an appropriate choice for BEIS. Meanwhile there’s continuity, with Matt Hancock and Amber Rudd and others retaining their roles.
On 28th May we put forward some clear proposals for transforming the UK economy by bringing in a more egalitarian form of capitalism. There are two main themes to this:
- Improving the operation of the free market by broadening participation right across society, enabling a new sense of involvement for employees and customers of businesses throughout the UK; and
- Giving hope and opportunity to young people, particularly from disadvantaged backgrounds, so that they can achieve their potential for a fulfilling adult life. It’s in this second respect that we are helping The Share Foundation in their drive to recover the Child Trust Fund.
A large part of our second theme is also about education, and it’s good to see Gavin Williamson back in Government. He has some great ministers in his team, including Children’s Minister Nadhim Zahawi. We look forward to a much more progressive approach to financial education in schools, a cause we have supported through the past two years. In both 2017 and 2018 we have provided a full analysis of GCSEs and A level results, and will be doing so again this year as we look forward to the possibility of the LIBF level 2 ‘LIFE’ examination being granted GCSE status.
So the new lease of life for this Conservative government is to be warmly welcomed. In a sense, it’s a bit like taking part in a rowing race: for the first part, massive energy is applied to pull ahead - that’s the Brexit phase. Then, while the power is maintained, the rate is set to a sustainable level for long-term, and the strokes lengthen out - that will be as we move into 2020, and start to see some real progress with those domestic initiatives across the country. Of course there are risks: the majority in the House of Commons is wafer thin, and there could well be major challenges from across the Parliamentary divide - and from their own benches - but Jacob Rees-Mogg has already shown that he means business too, by challenging opponents to consider revoking article 50 if they dare. They won’t.
Three days have proved sufficient for immense transformation across history. Let’s hope that these three days will prove to have done likewise for the United Kingdom.
Gavin Oldham OBE