Ten questions for Johnson’s reshuffle

7 Sep

  • What does the Prime Minister do about economic policy?  His instinct is for government to spend a lot; Rishi Sunak’s is for it to spend less.  Boris Johnson would clearly be reckless to lose his second Chancellor in less than two years, and we don’t believe that he will try to move him. Furthermore, it isn’t at all clear who would play Anthony Barber to the Prime Minister’s Edward Heath.  But Sunak’s public pitch for loyalty over social care yesterday only confirmed the tensions between him and the Prime Minister. Johnson will be brooding over the future of the man who is favourite eventually to replace him.
  • Who runs Downing Street?  The Prime Minister frets about the unresponsiveness of the official machine.  He has lost Dominic Cummings.  He is installing a Delivery Unit.  He is beefing up his own political operation.  Does he take the radical option of creating a Prime Minister’s department?  Or the established one of relying on the Cabinet Office?  Either way, who does he put in charge?  Does he keep Michael Gove?  Move in Dominic Raab.  Or else send for Oliver Dowden – just as David Cameron’s former Deputy Chief of Staff is enjoying his own place in the sun in his own department (and perhaps eyeing Education)?
  • What about the Home Office and the Foreign Office?  Some in Number Ten share our panel’s lack of confidence in Priti Patel; Raab has been in place for almost two years.  Gove has been punted for both posts but, for all his talents, there is only one of him.  And if he moves out of the Cabinet Office, who will take the lead on Scotland?  Our bet for Foreign Secretary were the shuffle to come late would be Alok Sharma, now that he has globetrotting experience wearing his COP26 hat.  Will Johnson really promote the Cabinet League Table-topping Liz Truss, who he is bound to see as a potential rival?
  • Who does Johnson bring back and at what level?  John Whittingdale was brought back to support Dowden.  James Brokenshire was returned to help Patel.  When his illness worsened, another former Cabinet member, Damian Hinds, replaced him.  The message is: keep your nose clean, and there’s a way back.  But is the Prime Minister prepared to do the same at Cabinet level – summoning Liam Fox or Jeremy Hunt or Iain Duncan Smith or Geoffrey Cox or Robert Halfon or other members of the Alternative Cabinet?  For given the scale of the foreign and domestic policy challenges, there’s a lack of experience at the top.
  • Which women…?  The optics will be an inevitable feature of the shuffle, whenever it comes.  Johnson will want to increase the number of women at the top table.  Anne-Marie Trevelyan must be top of the list to return, but she only recently started her job as Energy Minister.  The Prime Minister will be keeping a watchful eye on the ambitious Penny Mordaunt.  Kemi Badenoch must be on any list for promotion, but is she ready to run a department?  Look out for Lucy Frazer, a potential future Justice Secretary; Chloe Smith if her health allows and, if media deployment is any guide, Helen Whateley. Will Tracey Crouch return?
  • …Ethnic minority members?… Nadhim Zahawi is being punted for co-Party Chairman, but he could also slot in at Education, where he has served as a junior Minister, or perhaps at Culture.  James Cleverly has been out of the domestic media eye at the Foreign Office and must be due to go back in it again.  Kwasi Kwarteng has only recently been appointed and will presumably stay where he is.  Lower down the ranks, Claire Courtino will go up sooner rather than later; then there is Ranil Jayawardena and, down in the Whips’ Office, Alan Mak.
  • …And Red Wallers…?  If promoting ethnic minority members is playing identity politics, so would be favouring white working class people.  MPs for the new Conservative northern and midlands seats aren’t necessarily working class – nor Red Wallers, strictly speaking – but they are yet another group that Johnson must consider.  Cabinet promotion from the 2019 intake would be drastic, and Johnson is more likely to turn to the trailblazers of 2017.  That might mean, say, Lee Rowley, the Tory Deputy Chairman, but the name most frequently raised is that of Simon Clarke, the former Business Minister.
  • P.S: what about appointment on merit?… Beware, Prime Minister, of the backlash from your average Conservative MP: male, white, and (in his view) overlooked because of political correctness.  “With one exception, those promoted in our intake have been women, ethnic minority members, or gay,” one 2019er complained to ConHome.  What about the Kit Malthouses and Edward Argars?  (The latter has had much to do as a Health Minister during the pandemic.)  Is there a quota on Old Etonians that keeps out Jesse Norman?  What about able backbenchers, such as Richard Fuller?
  • …And communicators?  The Government is short at the top of people who can get on the front foot on TV, if that’s quite the right way of putting it.  There’s Sunak, Gove, the Prime Minister himself, a more relaxed Grant Shapps, and Kwarteng.  And that’s about it.  Which is why Cleverly is due a return, and perhaps Brandon Lewis too.  He would fit in at Housing were Robert Jenrick to be moved, but on balance this is unlikely.  Jacob Rees-Mogg has been confined to the Commons as Leader of the House, and were he appointed Chief Secretary, he would be restricted to the Treasury.
  • What’s the least bad timing?  The infallible rule of reshuffles is that the anger of those sacked outweighs the gratitude of those promoted.  A shuffle this week would refresh the Cabinet before the conference season.  But one later would ease moving Raab, Ben Wallace or both: besides, it isn’t yet clear that Covid has run its course.  We assume when the shuffle comes Gavin Williamson will be moved, and at least two Cabinet members fired.  More, and Johnson will risk a “night of the long knives”.  Fewer, and what’s the point?  P.S: the promotion of the Johnsons’ old mucker Zac Goldsmith is a possibility.

Snap guide to this session’s Government legislation 7) Elections Bill

8 Aug

The Bills announced in each session’s Queen’s Speech are the fulcrum of the Parliamentary year.  But they are easily lost sight of, separately and wholly, as the political cycle moves – and a mass of other news and events crowd them out.

So during the coming months, ConservativeHome will run a brief guide, on most Sunday mornings, to each Bill from this year’s Speech: what it is, whether it’s new, its main strengths and weaknesses – and whether it’s expected sooner or later.

5. Elections Bill

The Bill’s long title consumes roughly 100 words, enough to show that it aims to fulfil a variety of purposes. These include “provision about the administration and conduct of elections, including provision designed to strengthe the integrity of the electoral process”.

And it duly divides into seven parts, which in turn cover: the administration and conduct of elections; overseas elections and EU electors; the Electoral Commission, regulation of expenditure, disqualification of offenders for holding elective office, information to be included with electronic material, and general provisions (including eleven schedules).

Responsible department

The Cabinet Office – so Michael Gove will probably present the Bill at Second Reading.  But the Minister in detailed charge of the Bill will undoubtedly be Chloe Smith, Minister for the Constitution and Devolution.

However, Julia Lopez, one of the Cabinet Office’s nine Commons Ministers, is responsible for “supporting Cabinet Office primary legislation in the Commons”, so she may get a share of the action in committee and, perhaps, at Second Reading too.

Carried over or a new Bill?

New.

Expected when?

Currently under consideration.

Arguments for

The Bill is essentially a tidying-up measure that aims as the Government sees it to “keep our electoral system up-to-date, including tighter new laws to stamp out the potential for electoral fraud, make our politics more transparent and further protect our elections from foreign interference”.

The core of the Ministers’ case is that our electoral system needs “sensible safeguards for postal and proxy voting, which will see party campaigners banned from handling postal votes, put a stop to postal vote harvesting and make it an offence for a person to attempt to find out or reveal who an absent voter has chosen to vote for”.

Arguments against

There is opposition to the Government’s plan to make the Electoral Commission more accountable to Parliament (or clip the wings, if you prefer), and claims that the measures relating to foreign interference will “fail to stem the flood of secretive donations shaping our politics”.  But objections to the Bill will be concentrated on the proposal in Part One for photo voter ID for elections in Great Britain.

The nub of these is that the measure is unnecessary because voter fraud is low.  Those who hold this view include Ruth Davidson and, within the Conservative Parliamentary Party, David Davis.  Labour adds that the main aim of the Bill is voter suppression – to depress turnout from lower income voters who don’t have photo ID such as passports.

Politics

The Bill may well draw rebel Tory backbench amendments from MPs who believe that the Electoral Commission is fundamentally flawed, and needs abolition rather than reform, as well as Opposition-led ones on the voter ID and donor-related measures.  On that last point, claims of government and, more specifically, Conservative corruption will always find a sympathetic audience among the public.

On the first point, the Government’s counter-argument is that the absence of voter fraud isn’t proved by the paucity of prosecutions (see articles on this site by Steve Baker and Peter Golds); that the Electoral Commission says that voter ID trials in 2018 “worked well”, that photo ID is used in Northern Ireland with difficulty, and there will be a new scheme for voters in Great Britain who don’t have it.

Controversy rating: 6/10

We mark the Bill lower than we might because it is of the kind that will cause more controversy among the minority that is politically engaged than with the majority that is not.  And add as a footnote that it would be ironic were an effect of the Bill, as John Rentoul has suggested, is that the Conservatives will lost out from the voter ID provisions rather than otherwise.

Snap guide to this session’s Government legislation 3) The dissolution and calling of Parliament Bill

13 Jun

The Bills announced in each session’s Queen’s Speech are the fulcrum of the Parliamentary year.  But they are easily lost sight of, separately and wholly, as the political cycle moves – and a mass of other news and events crowd them out.

So during the coming months, ConservativeHome will run a brief guide, most Sunday mornings, to each Bill from this year’s Speech: what it is, whether it’s new, its main strengths and weaknesses – and whether it’s expected sooner or later.

2) The dissolution and calling of Parliament Bill

What it is

This is the Bill to scrap the Fixed Terms Parliament Act and restore the Royal Prerogative arrangement that preceded it.  It has a brief six clauses in all – four of which concern the matters above.  (The two remaining clauses are relatively minor.)

Essentially, Clauses One and Four cover the fixed terms aspects, repealing the Act and confirming that no Parliament can last longer than five years.  Clauses Two and Three deal with restoring the Prerogative “as if the…Act had never been enacted”, as Clause 2 puts it.  Clause Three seeks to place this revived Prerogative beyond the reach of the courts.  This is a so-called “Ouster Clause“.

Responsible department

The Cabinet Office – and the dissolution and calling of Parliament Bill has already received its First Reading in the Commons.  This took place on May 12.

Michael Gove, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, is thus the lead Minister. Chloe Smith, Minister for the Constitution and Devolution, who also sits in the Cabinet Office, would be expected to take Bill through committee.

Carried over or a new Bill?

A new Bill – but it has already had pre-legislative scrutiny through a joint committee which reported in March.

Expected back when?

Sooner rather than later.

Arguments for

The basic case for the Bill is that fixed terms are inflexible – and that they’ve not been observed in any event, with general elections coming early in 2017 and 2019.

This being so, the most practicable alternative is to fall back on the status quo ante under which, as a Government command paper on the Bill has put it, “Parliament will be dissolved by the Sovereign, on the advice of the Prime Minister”.  Which means, given the Supreme Court’s judgement on prorogation, putting the matter beyond reach of the courts.

Arguments against

These fall into two parts, mirroring the Bill’s case and stucture.  First, that it’s a good thing in principle for Parliaments to work on the assumption that they will last for a fixed term.

And that fixed term can indeed be shortened if necessary, as it has twice been, then what’s the problem?  Second, that the status quo ante can’t be restored, since a prerogative is a non-statutory executive power and common law is created by courts and not legislatures, as Anne Twomey, a constitutional law professor, argued in evidence to the joint committee (and shouldn’t be anyway).

Politics

The Liberal Democrats were the co-creators of the Fixed Terms Act, along with their Conservative co-partners in the Coalition Government, and can be expected to oppose the Bill.  One might presume Labour unwilling to allow Boris Johnson greater flexibility over a general election’s calling, especially with talk of a poll in 2023.  However, one Tory source says that current feedback from the party is “supportive”.

Brenda Hale, who presided over the Supreme Court’s prorogation judgement, disagreed with Professor Twomey – telling the joint committee that in her view the prorogative can be restored.  But if one takes such a view, it doesn’t necessarily follow that one also believes the prerogative should be placed beyond the reach of the courts.  So what Labour says and how it votes will be worth watching

Controversy rating: 5/10

It’s hard see a Conservative backbench revolt that either supports the Act or opposes a restored prerogative.  But Opposition MPs, enthusiasts for judicial power, and supporters of the prorogation judgement will portray the Bill as an executive power grab.  So opponents of the Bill are more likely to stress opposing ouster clauses, not supporting fixed parliaments.

Dehenna Davison: We need to dig deep to understand why more women don’t go into politics – but quotas are not the answer

21 Dec

Dehenna Davison is MP for Bishop Auckland.

Women are outnumbered in Parliament and local government by two to one. So what’s the answer to getting more into politics and retaining them? Networks like Conservative Young Women.

The 2019 General Election returned the highest number, and proportion, of female MPs ever recorded and a new record of female Conservative MPs, me included. I firmly believe that, if any party is doing the most to get women elected into public office, it’s the Conservatives.

While admittedly it is the Labour Party that still has the most female MPs elected, that is predominantly because of the use of all-women shortlists or quotas, something any self-respecting meritocrat could never support.

I certainly didn’t want a better chance of being selected because I was a woman. I just wanted a fair chance at getting there. And, in the end, the Bishop Auckland selection final comprised of two blokes and me. I have the confidence of knowing that I won fair and square based on merit, and not because of my gender.

Besides, regardless of Labour’s use of all female shortlists, it has still failed to produce a single female leader, whereas the Conservative Party delivered not only the first female party leader, but the first two female Prime Ministers.

It can’t be denied that tools like quotas can be useful for getting women through the door. However, if we are serious about getting more women into politics, it has to be more than just cosmetic. We have to dig deeper into the reasons why women aren’t already getting involved. That means looking into, and addressing, the cultural and working practices that exist in Parliament and local government, which create and maintain significant barriers for women.

A recent study by the University of Bath suggested there are three factors that prevent women from getting into elected life: social and cultural barriers, structural and institutional barriers, and knowledge and information barriers.

The social and cultural barriers are, to some extent, the hardest to change. Politics has long been thought of as a man’s world or a boys’ club. I am confident that almost every political woman, of any party affiliation, could name multiple examples of going to a political event and being the only woman in the room. For some people, this wouldn’t pose a problem – I certainly never felt put off because of such experiences.

However, for other women I have spoken to, it can be very offputting walking into a room full exclusively of men in suits, particularly if this happens during someone’s very early political experiences.

Paradoxically, the best way to tackle these cultural barriers is by getting more women elected. But not just women – people of all demographics from all walks of life. The more the makeup of elected politicians reflects our society, the easier it will be for people from non-traditional political demographics to picture themselves in positions of power and consider standing for election. The 2019 General Election saw the most diverse Parliament ever elected, and we must continue this trend.

The structural barriers have been changing in recent years, with measures put in place to make Parliament more parent-friendly. An in-house nursery and more sociable working hours are all part of these steps. And we have seen excellent female MPs like Chloe Smith, Juli Lopez, and Kemi Badenoch taking maternity leave while doing Ministerial jobs.

On the knowledge barriers, training is key. Groups like Women2Win and the Conservative Women’s Organisation have long played a crucial role in providing training opportunities for women interested in political life.

The pipeline of good candidates is paramount, and that means making sure we have excellent younger women ready to take on leadership roles in their communities when they arise. That is why I am delighted to take on the role of Honorary President of Conservative Young Women this year.

Conservative Young Women is for those aged 18-35, meaning that despite officially being too old at 27 to be a Young Conservative I am still thankfully well within the bracket! CYW is laying the groundwork to deliver change to the often perceived masculine character of Westminster.

Now a central feature within the party, the organisation this year has gone from strength to strength and, despite the challenges the Coronavirus pandemic has thrown at the world, the organisation has delivered a number of fantastic events remotely.

If we are to achieve 50/50 representation without the use of quotas, it is vital that we connect young women in the Conservative Party so that they can share their resources to learn more about political life, and understand the opportunities available to them.

Confidence in conviction can sometimes be all that holds back a woman and visible representation of women in power is key in ensuring women are empowered to stand for election. With representatives from across the UK (including the devolved nations) and events for young women to connect and network, the Conservative Young Women’s organisation is the backbone of the effort to get more women into political life.

In my role as Honorary President, I will be working with Conservative Young Women closely over the next 12 months to see how best we can tackle some of those earlier mentioned barriers. I am excited to work alongside Ella Robertson McKay and the new committee of talented women.

One of the things I’m really excited about is the CYW Policy Essay Competition, which we launched last week. We’re asking young women to write a short essay about a policy to tackle one of the key challenges facing our nation. As well as a cash prize, the winners will get to pitch their idea to senior leaders from the Number 10 Policy Unit and the Conservative Party Board. To find out more, go here.

Despite incredible progress in recent years, there is still a long way to go to encourage more of our talented women to consider going into politics, and sharing their skills and expertise for the good of our society.

But it is a challenge that I and Conservative Young Women stand ready to tackle.

Securing the Majority? 2) Tackling electoral fraud

1 Sep

After the 2019 election, we suggested five ways that Boris Johnson could help to secure the Party’s electoral position as part of our Majority series. This was the second. Eight months on, how are they doing?

– – –

Securing The Majority? 2) Tackling electoral fraud

In the Queen’s Speech delivered to Parliament in October of last year, one passage created quite a lot of agitation on the left: “My Government will take steps to protect the integrity of democracy and the electoral system in the United Kingdom.”

This referred to proposals to bring forward an Electoral Integrity Bill, which would introduce a requirement for voters to provide a photographic ID in order to cast their ballots in general elections (on the mainland, it is already required in Ulster) and English local elections.

Before the election, it sounded like a priority. Updating the House of Commons on the voter ID pilots conducted by the Electoral Commission, Kevin Foster said:

“Electoral fraud is an unacceptable crime that strikes at a core principle of our democracy – that everyone’s vote matters. In our current system, there is undeniable potential for electoral fraud and the perception of this undermines public confidence in our democracy.”

Chloe Smith, the Minister for the Constitution, reiterated the Government’s commitment to the idea in response to a question from David Davis in June:

“The Government are committed to introducing voter ID, as well as extra postal and proxy voting measures, to reduce the potential for electoral fraud in order to give the public greater confidence that our elections are secure.”

Yet there was no mention of the Bill in the post-election Queen’s Speech, nor is there any sign of the Bill now.

It may be that it has fallen victim to the broader confusion afflicting the Government’s constitutional approach, which is reflected in the decision to abort the ‘Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission’ promised in the Manifesto. Critics of the Bill also questioned whether it was wise to produce yet another piecemeal reform in the face of pressure for a broader overhaul of UK electoral law in the aftermath of the EU referendum.

So with ministers pressing ahead with measures such as reform to digital campaigning, it may be that voter ID and tighter controls on postal votes will eventually appear as part of a more comprehensive reform package.