Iain Dale: The Education Recovery Plan. Williamson has very little capital to expend. Will it be Marcus Rashford to the rescue?

4 Jun

Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio and the For the Many podcast with Jacqui Smith.

I must admit I did have a little chuckle when I saw that Boris Johnson and Carrie Symonds had managed to get married without any member of Her Majesty’s Fourth Estate finding out about it. It just shows that it is possible, just about, to keep a secret in today’s gossip-filled society.

Naturally, though, some people couldn’t quite bring themselves to congratulate the happy couple on their day of joy. Plenty of commentators decided to indulge in a bit of Talleyrand-esque “what did they mean by that” speculation. Leading the charge was my good friend Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, who Tweeted this:

I scratch my head and wonder to myself how an intelligent person could come up with a conspiracy theory like that. If Johnson really wanted to distract from anything, wouldn’t he have had an all guns blazing type of wedding, with peals of bells ringing out, TV cameras present and naked dwarves wearing nipple tassels at the reception? And while he’s at it, get a blind trust to pay for it. Now that really would be a distraction.

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I’ve experienced a lot of Twitter pile-ons in my time, but this week has been something to behold. Now I generally make it a rule never to intervene in the burgeoning debate about self-gendering and trans rights. Mainly because no good ever comes of it.

On Monday I broke that rule and tweeted something which I thought was quite balanced.

What I had failed to comprehend is that you can as nuanced as you like and still fail in a quest to be balanced. The wrath of Hades immediately descended on me. The Tweet attracted more than 1,100 replies, with both sides of the argument professing to be outraged.

Next up was Darren Grimes who I invited on to my Cross Question panel on Tuesday evening. You’d have thought I’d invited the devil himself. We cover all sorts of subjects in the hour long programme, just like Question Time or Any Questions. I’ve always found Darren to be one the most articulate exponents of the arguments for Brexit, and the fact that he comes from a working-class background in the North East gives him a different perspective on all sorts of levelling up debates.

But the North London polenta-eating intelligentsia can’t cope with a North East accent challenging their preconceptions of what they think is best for the hoi-polloi. This was typified by a Matt cartoon in The Telegraph this week which should a Labour canvasser at a council house door holding a clipboard and asking: “So who are you racist fascists going to vote for then?”

The argument quickly descended from “Well you shouldn’t have him on, he’s not a virologist” (note: Paul Mason, Chris Green and Caroline Flint, the other panellists, aren’t either, but they escaped that one) to “You clearly want to sleep with him” and then ultimately “You just feel sorry for him because he’s got a small penis.”

Well, that’s a winning argument if ever I heard one. And they say people on the right are the nasty ones.

I’ll continue to invite who I damn well like onto my show, and hang the consequences. Just imagine what they’ll say when I invite David Starkey back on *opens contacts book*.

– – – – – – – – –

Yet another unforced error from the Government, this time over the Education Recovery Plan.

So far we haven’t had an intervention from Marcus Rashford, the Shadow Education Secretary, but it can surely be only a matter of time before he shames the Government into yet another u-turn.

It should never have been this way. If you appoint an expert to be your adviser and then he finds out you’re only taking 10 per cent of his advice, don’t be surprised if he then quits in high dudgeon. And that’s exactly what Sir Kevan Collins did on Wednesday.

It followed the Chancellor, backed by the Prime Minister, saying that schools could only have £1.5 billion to fund the Education Recovery plan. The IFS worked out that it amounts to £50 per pupil. Risible, compared to the Netherlands spending £2,200 per pupil or the US £1,600.

And the thought that just by adding an extra half an hour onto the end of the school day would do the trick is ridiculous. It seems that Collins was supported in his case by Gavin Williamson, the Education Secretary. The trouble is that Williamson has very little capital to expend so the Chancellor found it quite easy to swat him away. Rishi Sunak may well come to regret that. Over to you, Rashford.

Johnson’s marriage shows he is more normal, prudent and pragmatic than his critics can begin to imagine

31 May

Many congratulations to Carrie Symonds and Boris Johnson on their marriage. All but the most curmudgeonly of the Prime Minister’s critics will wish them happiness, as one would any couple who have just got married.

That is one of the good things about a wedding. It links bride and groom, whether famous or obscure, not only with each other, but with millions of other people who have gone through the same rituals and made the same vows.

There is something normal about getting married. It is not a state reserved for perfect couples.

One caught a hint of this when Westminster Cathedral issued a statement which included the words, “The bride and groom are both parishioners.” The Church is there for everyone.

We do not enter here into the dispute about the correct interpretation of the Roman Catholic Church’s rules on remarriage.

Our point is a broader one. Johnson and Symonds have done what many people nowadays do. They lived openly and unashamedly together, and had a child, before they got married.

No previous Prime Minister had behaved quite like that, but by contemporary standards, what they did is conventional.

Johnson’s critics find themselves in a predicament comparable to that of hunters who complain that their quarry will not keep still.

They would like the Prime Minister to oblige them by adopting some fixed position, in which they could riddle him with bullets. He instead moves about, sometimes with extraordinary fleetness of foot.

Saturday’s wedding came as so great a surprise to the media that news of it only broke about six hours after it had taken place. When one considers how much attention the fourth estate devotes to Johnson, and how predictable it was that he and Symonds would get married, it is fairly astonishing that he managed to spring such a surprise.

How to interpret his behaviour? Should one call him a moderniser, for living out of wedlock with Symonds, or old-fashioned, for getting married in church?

Is he at heart a Conservative, a Liberal or a Social Democrat?

And is he or is he not a Roman Catholic? Here too it is hard to be sure.

His critics protest with great bitterness that he keeps breaking the rules.

They yearn to place him in an ideological box, and smash him to pieces for having the wrong opinions.

Johnson prefers to work out what is the best thing to do, and to do it. In other words, he is a Tory pragmatist.

Which is not a very romantic conclusion to arrive at in a piece which began with his marriage. But here is another surprise about Johnson which ought not to be a surprise.

If one looks at what he does, as opposed to what the press thinks he is doing, he is often unscrupulous enough to choose the most prudent option, while pretending to be utterly reckless.

Johnson and Symonds marry – a photograph of the happy couple

29 May

Boris Johnson and Carrie Symonds married yesterday in a small ceremony at Westminster Cathedral.

The Mail on Sunday has more details about the occasion, where the couple reportedly exchanged vows in front of 30 guests. Here’s a photograph of the newlyweds (below), along with messages from MPs.

Many congratulations to Boris Johnson and Carrie Symonds from the ConservativeHome team.

Cummings Reborn – as the champion of Parliament. He has given MPs more power, so leaving the inquiry with less.

26 May

Dominic Cummings’ marathon evidence session was bad for Ministers, bad for the civil service, bad for government – and, not least, bad for Cummings, as he turned his gun on himself, so to speak, in the wake of his drive-by shooting.

That’s to say, it was bad for all of these if the public take any notice, rather than following Clark Gable: “frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn”.  Should they?

Some will make snap judgements about what Cummings’ evidence said about how we’re governed, whether voters care or not.  Or sigh world-wearily instead, and say that it was ever thus.

Others will try to work out which politicians are damaged most.  Or which civil servants and government departments are.  Or whether Cummings was angling for a job under a Rishi Sunak or Michael Gove-led administration.

Others still will say that the Labour manifesto of 1983 can no longer claim the title of the longest suicide note in history.  Because Cummings’ evidence has overhauled it.

Whatever your view, the very length and density of the evidence defies an instant take.  Except that its core message was Martin Amis’ definition of entropy: Everything Fucks Up.

However, one point hits home immediately.  Yesterday, Cummings bent the passage of time.  That’s to say, he brought politics forward from the Covid inquiry – and dumped it on the floor of the Commons.

Did Boris Johnson so dismiss the virus’ threat as to suggest injecting himself with it on live TV?  Did Carrie Symonds act illegally in relation to an appointment?  Did Matt Hancock lie “on multiple occasions”?

Did Mark Sedwill, then Cabinet Secretary, propose “chicken pox parties” in order that as many people as possible catch the virus?  Did the Prime Minister “not want a proper border policy”?

Was there never a plan to shield care homes or test those entering – contrary to assurances from the Health Secretary? Aren’t the dead and their families owed so much better?  And is the key problem that haunts the British people or systems?

For on the one hand, Cummings said that the crisis required “a kind of dictator” with “close to kingly authority”.  On the other, he claimed that even Bill Gates or “the most competent people in the world…would have had an absolute nightmare”.

For better or worse, Cummings’ evidence will give MPs opportunities to put all these questions soon rather than later (i.e: after the next election, in all probability, when the inquiry at last reports – by which time some of them will no longer be in the Commons).

And not just in the chamber.  Whatever else can be said of today’s session, it was a triumph for the Select Committee system.  Greg Clark and Jeremy Hunt – an old double act that once wrote a pamphlet together – were sober, prepared and measured.

Pan the camera out a bit, and you can see how Select Committees are enjoying a revival.  Major inquiries have not usually been undertaken in Parliament during recent years.

Bloody Sunday, child abuse, the Iraq War: all the main ones in the last few decades, stretching all way back to the Franks Report on the Falklands War and beyond, have been farmed out by the Executive to judges (or lay experts).

But where Hunt and Clark walked today, they will continue tomorrow.  The Health Secretary faces an evidence session.  Parliamentary questions will be asked of him in the Commons today.  Johnson is to make a statement.

Other committees may get in on the act – just as they have over the Greensill collapse, over which a Treasury Select Committee inquiry is up and running.  The Business Committee has one coming.  The Public Administration Committee has already got one going.

Now have a think about who some of those committee chairmen are.  Hunt, Health Select Committee: Johnson’s leadership rival (and the man in charge of pandemic prep under previous governments).  Clark, Science Select Committee, who Johnson sacked from the Cabinet.

Mel Stride, Treasury Select Committee Chair, ditto.  (Well, almost: as Commons Leader under Theresa May, he had the right to attend.)  William Wragg, Public Administration: a persistent critic of the Government over lockdown.

What an irony it is that Cummings, who once refused to attend a Select Committee, and was threatened with a summons to the bar of the Commons, has been falling over himself in his eagerness to give evidence.

And that he, the razer of institutions – not least Parliament – has helped to restore it.  Or at least given it a chance to revive itself, and get ahead of an inquiry before its members have even been appointed.

Cummings claims Johnson tried to halt the “chatty rat” inquiry – because it would cause him “serious problems” with Symonds

23 Apr

Here is a link to Dominic Cummings’ blog post of this afternoon, and below is our summary of some of his main claims.

Dyson

  • Re the Dyson leak, Cummings has messages from Dyson to the Prime Minister on his mobile phone, but that they’re about “ventilators, bureaucracy and covid policy — not tax issues”.

Chatty Rat

  • Re the lockdown “chatty rat” leak, Johnson mulled stopping the leak inquiry after being told by Simon Case, the Cabinet Secretary, that Henry Newman, a friend of Carrie Symonds, and now a senior Spad to the Prime Minister, was responsible.
  • Civil servants “would give evidence to this effect under oath to any inquiry. I also have WhatsApp messages with very senior officials about this matter which are definitive”.

Downing Street flat wallpaper

  • “I thought his plans to have donors secretly pay for the renovation were unethical, foolish, possibly illegal and almost certainly broke the rules on proper disclosure of political donations if conducted in the way he intended. I refused to help him organise these payments.”

Newcastle United

  • Cummings doesn’t refer at all to messages to and from the Prime Minister on his mobile phone about the bid by Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, for Newcastle United.

Procedure

  • He is “happy to meet with the Cabinet Secretary and for him to search my phone for Dyson messages”.
  • He is “happy to tell the Cabinet Secretary or Electoral Commission what I know” about the Downing Street flat wallpaper.
  • I have made the offer to hand over some private text messages, even though I am under no legal obligation to do so…this does not mean that I will answer every allegation made by No10″.
  • An urgent Parliamentary inquiry is required “into the government’s conduct over the covid crisis which ought to take evidence from all key players under oath and have access to documents”.

ConHome snapshot take

  • That the Prime Minister sought to halt a leak inquiry isn’t necessarily serious in itself, but more details may come to light that are – since the inquiry hasn’t reported, as far as we know, yet the leak itself took place last November. What’s happened to it since?
  • Cummings clearly believes he can prove that he was not responsible for either the “chatty rat” or Dyson leaks.
  • He is silent on the Newcastle United leak, and is willing to hand over “some private text messages” [our italic].  He shouldn’t be surprised if others draw the conclusion that in this case he was responsible.
  • Cummings is seeking to cause maximum damage not only to Johnson, who he is seeking to present as under the thumb of his partner, but also to Symonds herself, and to Henry Newman, her friend and a member of the Number Ten faction associated with her.  Our guide to the various groups is here.

Stratton’s departure as Press Secretary. Vote Leave is blamed – and hits back.

21 Apr

When the Prime Minister last appointed a Press Secretary, ConservativeHome was told that Lee Cain’s candidate, Ellie Price, performed better in trial live media conference tests; but that Carrie Symonds’ candidate, Allegra Stratton, got on better during pre-post Boris Johnson interviews.

At any rate, Stratton will not now be exposed to those American-style press conferences as Press Secretary – a very high wire to walk given the unprecedented nature of the events.  Instead, the deal is that she will still speak live for the Government…but only on COP26: with more restriction on the scope of questions, there will be less chance of her being ambushed.

When a plan goes awry in Downing Street, the response now tends to be: blame Vote Leave.  And both Cain, the former Director of Communications, and Dominic Cummings were duly shouldering responsibility this morning for dreaming up an arrangement that would have exposed Stratton to cruelly probing, sadistically-crafted questions.

The one put to Boris Johnson during yesterday’s press conference about his relationship with Jennifer Arcuri was being cited this morning as an example.

Characteristic, narcissistic, media-obssessed, self-regarding Westminster Village trivia, reply friends of Vote Leave.  “It was not about the lobby,” one of them told this site.  “It was about getting a message out to voters beyond the M25, and Johnson knows that he made the wrong appointment.”

At any rate, we are now back to the structure that was in place before Stratton’s appointment.  Jack Doyle steps up to become Director of Communications, replacing James Slack, who has taken on a senior role at the Sun.  Max Blain becomes the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman, and Rosie Bate-Williams is the new Press Secretary.

Much will be made of the £2.6 million spent on a new media suite for those U.S-type briefings.  But this White House theme is a bit of red herring.  Number Ten has grasped from the Coronavirus pandemic that press conferences offer them that direct access to voter’s living rooms – Vote Leave-style, without journalistic filter.

All that will now change is that Downing Street will use the suite for special events of its own timing and choosing – rather than expose itself regularly to sarky questions from the lobby.

Mind you, that wouldn’t have worried Vote Leave at all: Trump-style verbal punch-ups with self-regarding liberal broadcasters would have been grist to their mill.  Stratton wouldn’t have been up for that, and neither now is Johnson himself, if he ever was.

Finally: don’t read too much into this change. There will be speculation about moves to the left and moves to the right and all that.  Forget about all that.  Even the point that Stratton was Symonds’ preferred candidate is a snap summary of a more complex position.

All that’s happened is that Johnson appointed a softer-edged spokesperson to help deliver a Vote Leave idea, which was never going to work.  So under the cover of the distintegration of the Football Superleague, the idea’s own collapse has been quietly slipped out.

How to advise Lord North, or Heath, or Thatcher, or Johnson

5 Mar

Political Advice: Past, Present and Future edited by Colin Kidd and Jacqueline Rose

The press is excited by stories about Boris Johnson’s advisers. Who is in, who out? Who is briefing against whom? Carrie Symonds is running the country from her sofa! The news that leopards are to be reintroduced into St James’s Park shows she is. And anyhow, who paid for the sofa?

Readers who wish to take a longer view of political advice are advised to get hold of this book. But be warned: it does not offer a crib, a cut-out-and-keep guide to how to be an adviser.

The lesson of the book is that there are no lessons. If this volume were by a single author, we could perhaps deduce from it a doctrine, but it is actually the work of 14 different contributors, who on 8th June 2017 met for a one-day conference on Political Advice at All Souls College, Oxford.

We are not fed anything so misleading as a theory of advice, but in these 14 essays we do find intimations, continuities and recurrences as we travel with these authors from Periclean Athens via the Renaissance, Tudor England, the Scottish Enlightenment, British orientalists in Persia, Edward Heath’s managerialists in Whitehall and astrologers at the court of Ronald and Nancy Reagan, to an account of the impossibility of advising Donald Trump.

Nobody can govern alone: every ruler needs help, and as the editors, Colin Kidd and Jacqueline Rose, remark in their introduction, the people running the show today “have no more time or concentration than their predecessors in antiquity”.

There is a limit to how much advice anyone can take in, let alone make use of. William Waldegrave writes, in this volume, about his experience of being a member of the Central Policy Review Staff (CPRS) from 1971-73.

Heath, both as Leader of the Opposition and from 1970 as Prime Minister, had a tremendous appetite for policy advice. He was a man of his time, for as Waldegrave reminds us,

“the late 1960s had seen much discussion of whether Britain’s institutions had sufficiently modernised themselves: the civil service was among those subject to criticism, including self-criticism. This had led in 1966 to the establishment, after a select committee of the House of Commons had levelled the accusation of amateurism at the modern service, of the Fulton Committee…it made trenchant criticisms of what it saw as the cult of the generalist, the lack of influence by scientists, poor training and recruitment practices and other matters.”

The CPRS was one way in which Heath was determined to modernise the machinery of government, by creating a central strategic staff who would engage in long-term thinking and apply the latest management techniques, many of them imported from the United States, to which “two exceptionally able younger Conservatives”, David Howell (now Lord Howell) and Mark Schreiber (now Lord Marlesford) had been despatched on a mission to find out what was happening there.

In 1970, Howell made, in his pamphlet A New Style of Government, the first use in the United Kingdom of the word “privatisation”. According to Waldegrave, these British experts “linked management theory to political doctrine in a more interesting way than is found in most of the American work of the time”, relating “managerial efficiency…to the development of modern liberal free-market doctrines”.

What happened? Heath made a complete hash of things, and in February 1974 the British people threw him out of office. His administration had been characterised, not by long-term thinking, but by desperate short-term expedients which culminated in the lights going out.

And yet all that advice was not entirely wasted. After 1979, privatisation became, with Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister, one of the Government’s most significant and successful policies.

She too was tremendously keen on getting good advice. She and her advisers learned from Heath’s mistakes, and for a long time her judgement of what was politically possible proved better than his.

But as Waldegrave goes on to say, both Houses of Parliament continue to feel “a deep suspicion of Bonapartist tendencies on the part of the Prime Minister”.

We don’t want a presidential system in this country, and got the central staffs created by Lloyd George and Churchill to fight the two world wars disbanded as soon as those conflicts were over.

Waldegrave, who served as a minister from 1981-97, regrets “the steady erosion” in recent times

“of a sense of Cabinet collectivity. Mr Blair is perhaps most to blame for this, but Mr Cameron is not innocent either. What the press has called ‘sofa government’ – combined with an over-intrusive regime of freedom of information – has taken us back to the time before Maurice Hankey and the establishment of the Cabinet Secretariat in 1916. Some major items of policy are not discussed collectively at all, and if they are discussed, little is recorded for fear of an immediate and politically driven application under the Freedom of Information Act. This is a recipe for bad decision-taking, as well as for ultimate lack of accountability.”

Boris Johnson became Prime Minister too recently for his behaviour in office to be considered in this volume. But one can’t help wondering whether his critics have been asking the wrong question.

They have assumed he is too weak: that he will soon be swept from office. Perhaps they should have been asking, instead, whether he is too strong: whether Bonapartist tendencies are beginning to manifest themselves.

For whoever occupies Number Ten has a near monopoly of the political advice which other ministers would need in order to make forceful arguments in Cabinet, or Cabinet committee, about any subject beyond their departmental responsibilities.

Sajid Javid refused, on being told he would not be allowed to choose his own advisers, to continue as Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Jesse Norman, currently serving as Financial Secretary to the Treasury, contributes to this volume an essay entitled Smith as SpAd? Adam Smith and Advice to Politicians.

The first part of this title has a Wodehousian ring. It prompts the thought that in modern English literature, the greatest provider of advice is Jeeves, and the greatest recipient Wooster.

Adam Smith often advised politicians:

“In 1766-7, he supplied information about French taxes to, and corrected the calculations of, Charles Townshend, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, in relation to the Sinking Fund designed to repay debt incurred during the Seven Years’ War; the fund was topped up in Townshend’s 1767 budget. He also advised Lord Shelburne on colonial policy at this time. Lord North thanked Smith for his advice on his 1777 Budget, when he took ideas from The Wealth of Nations for two new taxes, on manservants and on property sold by auction. He took two more ideas in 1778: the malt tax and a very Smithian duty on the rentable value of buildings. Also in 1778, Smith wrote ‘Thoughts on the State of the Contest with America’, a long and considered memorandum setting out different options for British policy towards the American colonies, then in revolt, at the request of his friend Alexander Wedderburn, the Solicitor General.”

We also find Smith advising on trade between Britain and Ireland. Just now his help would be invaluable. He recognised, as Norman puts it, “that the world was an imperfect place, in which evils could exist and persist”.

Smith was not the laissez-faire ideologue for which he has sometimes been mistaken. Nor was he the kind of generalist with which the Fulton Committee, and latterly Dominic Cummings, considered the civil service to be over-provided. Smith was a Commissioner of Customs, active in the regulation and suppression of smuggling.

Colin Burrow remarks, in his essay entitled How Not To Do It: Poets and Counsel, Thomas Wyatt to Geoffrey Hill:

“The figure of the frank speaker condemned to the margins of political life, and thus unable to deliver counsel to his monarch, became one of the major literary personae of the later Henrician period.”

Twitter is just now infested with such frank speakers, who do not turn out to be gifted poets, but spend their days denouncing with hysterical self-righteousness anyone with whom they disagree.

The adviser has to be willing to compromise; often works for palpably inadequate leaders; but is at least on the field of play.

Nick King: Johnson’s Reset. The Government needs business if it’s to build back better.

22 Nov

Nick King is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Policy Studies

Much has been written in the last week, on this site and beyond, about what a Government ‘reset’ might look like, following Dom Cummings and Lee Cain’s departure from Number 10. Broadly. those perspectives have focused on what might be termed ‘the three Ps’ of positioning, people and policy.

In terms of positioning it has been argued that Number 10 needs to take a less confrontational approach – whether that is towards the media, public institutions or, indeed, Conservative backbenchers.

On people, the part played by the indomitable Carrie Symonds and the increasing importance of Allegra Stratton has been acknowledged, but the search continues for the right Chief of Staff to promote and protect Boris Johnson’s own interests.

The issue of policy is perhaps the least clear cut, with competing views espoused as to whether or not the Government can be the party of Workington as well as the party of Notting Hill. My own view is it can and it must.

But there is a final P which needs to be thrown into the mix – not as a fourth horseman, but as a corollary of the three Ps – and that is the private sector.

The fact is that British business is at a low ebb right now, in terms of performance, confidence and its relationship with Government. Covid-19 is the most obvious explanatory factor for those first two issues – forcing millions of businesses up and down the country to close will take the wind out of their sails however generous the set of support packages provided. But introducing those measures only serves to make the job of working constructively with British business all the more important for government. On this task, it has been found wanting.

Across industries, sectors and different parts of the country, there has been consternation and confusion as different restrictions have been introduced, without any (published) economic analysis of the potential impacts or of the evidence base upon which these decisions have been made.

As we approach December 3rd, businesses remain in the dark about whether or not they might be able to reopen, despite the long lead times needed for various parts of the hospitality sector in particular (a sector whose import will perhaps never be as keenly felt as it will be in December 2020).

That businesses don’t feel like the Government supports them is hardly new news, however. Successive polls commissioned by my think tank, the Centre for Policy Studies, has shown that a clear majority of small businesses don’t think that the Government is on their side. Indeed, the Government’s own survey data shows that only a quarter of businesses think government understands business well enough to regulate it. But in the context of a national economic shutdown, this is simply not good enough.

This is not to say there aren’t people around Government who understand business, or who are keen to support it. Rishi Sunak, Alok Sharma, their political teams and Departments are obviously on businesses’ side, as is Ed Lister and Alex Hickman’s business relations team in Number 10. But the disregard of other influential figures towards business has meant that much of the private sector has failed to get a proper hearing throughout 2020.

The anticipated ‘reset’ is an opportunity for the Johnson administration to put that right. Which duly brings us back to our three Ps.

On positioning, the Government needs to be unapologetically pro-business, free enterprise and open markets. The Conservative Party must defend the role of enterprise and the private sector and be resolutely on the side of the millions of small business owners up and down the country. This is important ground both ideologically and politically – and ground which the Conservative Party is in danger of ceding if it isn’t more full-voiced in its support for business.

In terms of people, Andrew Griffith and Neil O’Brien’s recent appointments are welcome, and will help emphasise the role of business, but change is needed in Number 10 itself. A Chief of Staff with extensive private sector experience would be welcome but, failing that, an understanding and sympathetic attitude towards enterprise should be regarded as a sine qua non. Just as important is for Number 10 to have a strong and expert voice for business sitting within its policy unit. That there has not been a business policy function sitting within the policy unit since David Cameron was Prime Minister is extraordinary – the existing business relations team needs to be strengthened and given a proper policy role.

Which brings us onto the final P of policy, which is the most important of ‘the three Ps’. Positioning and people are all well and good, but fine words doth butter no parsnips, as they say – so Johnson needs to ensure his Government is putting business front and centre as he looks to build back better.

Post-pandemic, securing growth is the only game in town. Without that there is no hope of new jobs, greater opportunities or improved living standards – whether in Workington or Notting Hill. And none of this can be achieved without unleashing the awesome and dynamic power of the private sector.

An important starting point would be to curtail the steadily increasing regulatory burden on business. Each measure, taken on its own merits, seems important and its impact trivial to business. But the corrosive, drip-drip effect takes its toll and as growth flatlines and productivity stagnates, politicians stand with their hands on their hips, double teapoting, wondering why.

Take the recent HFSS (foods and drinks high in fat, sugar and salt) consultation for example – likely to cost British industry hundreds of millions of pounds. No doubt full of noble intent, but hardly what the economic doctor might order as we look to recover post-pandemic.

More worrying still are the suggestions that we will increase both the rates and the scope of business and enterprise taxes in 2022. This is no way to stimulate and incentivise the businesses who are our only way out of the economic morass in which we find ourselves. Rather than clipping its wings, the Government should provide the wind to help business soar.

Speaking of wind power, the vital role of the private sector was clear in the Prime Minister’s 10 point plan for a Green Industrial Revolution. But the truth is that few of his priorities can be achieved without the business community. Levelling up? It requires business investment and private sector jobs in the North and the Midlands. Net zero? Industry needs to transition and innovate our way towards it. Protect the Union? Champion our British businesses and demonstrate our reliance on the free flow of goods and access to important markets both north and south of the border. Global Britain? Remain open to inward investors and get more companies exporting.

Pfizer, BioNTech and other companies have all too ably demonstrated just why we need the private sector recently – it’s the key to solving so many of our problems. Which is why Boris Johnson needs to put it front and centre through his reset exercise.

A reformed Number Ten must get on the front foot with business relations and business policy. It needs to articulate a clear vision of our post-Brexit future, rooted in entrepreneurship, investing in success, focused on innovation, with a skilled workforce, trading with the world and built off the back of our brilliant SMEs. That’s a reset worth waiting for.