The New New New No 10

John Rentoul

no10 300x189 The New New New No 10Luxuriating in feeling very old, I read Tim Montgomerie’s description of “the new 10 Downing Street” as if from another planet. It is only the millionth time since about 1854 that the organogram of the prime minister’s office has been redrawn in an attempt to achieve Montgomerie’s three goals: to “force Whitehall to focus” on the government’s programme; to “communicate the big themes”; and to “rise above the day-to-day and achieve a longer-term strategic clarity”.

It’s bound to work. Not least because, “to ensure that no assertion from the public sector bureaucracy is taken for granted,” the new No 10 is hiring lots of civil servants, rather than political advisers.

Nor has the fashion for setting up units with silly names abated much since its peak in the Blair years, with a new Research and Analytics Unit, already nicknamed “boffins central”.

It is all pretty irrelevant. What matters is the quality of people, the clarity of leadership and political unity. The success of the new arrangements depends on how good Andrew Cooper,* Paul Kirby and Craig Oliver are, and how effective David Cameron is as a leader – and how well he works with Nick Clegg, George Osborne and Oliver Letwin.

As for the politics, James Forsyth has an interesting article in the forthcoming Spectator about the three practical constraints on Conservative ministers: Harriet Harman’s Equalities Act, the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Union. And they cannot do much about any of them, because of the Liberal Democrats’ adherence to all three.

*For those puzzled by why Montgomerie and the Tory right are so suspicious of Cooper, the former SDP pollster, I turned to Simon Walters’ essential work, Tory Wars, 2001. Cooper, “director of operations” at Conservative Central Office, was one of the “Portillistas … the all-male bunch of thirtysomething, right-wing hangers-on, spin doctors and political wannabes who referred to themselves reverentially as ‘The Movement’” (p40).  He was purged by Amanda Platell, William Hague’s press secretary (p44):

Platell suspected him of leaking the damaging findings of focus group surveys of which he was in charge, which showed that people regarded Hague as weak. Once she discovered his computer ’screen saver’ consisted of a picture of Portillo, he had little chance of persuading her of his innocence.

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  • Ciaran Rehill

    Am I the only one to remember when the sole security at Downing St was a barrier on the opposite pavement? Why and how has Britain changed for the worse? Don’t tell me it is everywhere, in supposedly dictatorial Minsk I photographed police outside Lukashenko’s palace, try doing THAT here!

  • ZacMurdoch

    It is interesting, though, that the policy unit is going to have to be staffed by civil servants (to fulfil Cameron’s pre-election pledge about reducing the number of special advisers – another utterance he has no doubt come to regret). Given that policy units have usually been staffed by political appointees, who can focus fully on the political agenda as well as the policy one (and how the latter impacts on the former), would it be cynical to think that the civil servants in this unit must inevitably become politicised? Or, indeed, that they have been chosen for their political predilections?

    As politicisation of civil servants is taboo, who is responsible for keeping a watch on this one?

  • Kamal

    Will it make a difference, no it will not. Does anyone care absolutely not, over and out.

  • erikasalzeck

    I remember when it was just the nice policeman !

  • Ciaran Rehill

    Erika how old we are getting! When I was a boy we were told “If in trouble go find a policeman”. Nobody with any nous would permit their kids near plod today. From Dixon of Dock Green to Sgt Smellie and PC Harwood in a few short years. It will be at least a generation before decent folk view the police with anything other than odium.

  • erikasalzeck

    Yeah but if i weren’t so old I would not have enough time to rant on these blogs. Dixon of Dock Green – now you’re talking!

  • Ciaran Rehill

    Excuse me I must dust the anti-mocassars then fire up the Austin 7.

  • erikasalzeck

    Antimacassar – tell me about – that ruddy Brylcreem wreaked havoc on the one I knitted for Christmas. We’ve got a Ford Consul by the way. I see petrol’s gone up to
    5s 2d. Ah well up the the wooden hill to Bedfordshire……

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