AT ITS BEST, the Downing Road Coverage Unit may be one of many nice engines of British authorities—a generator of latest concepts and a recruiter of shiny outsiders. Beneath Margaret Thatcher it championed privatisation and deregulation. Beneath Tony Blair it powered public-sector reform. However beneath Theresa Could it withered into insignificance. In Mrs Could’s glory days—they did exist!—Nick Timothy tried to do all of the considering and after her disastrous election the lights within the Coverage Unit went out fully.
They’re blazing as soon as once more. The Coverage Unit is now greater than 20-strong, with spectacular new recruits corresponding to Liam Sales space-Smith, a think-tanker, and John Bew, a professor at King’s Faculty London and creator of a wonderful biography of Clement Attlee. Up to now the ambiance is all power and camaraderie. The unit’s members really feel like commandos who’ve been given a momentous mission (taking Britain by Brexit) and have survived a hazing by a tricky sergeant (Dominic Cummings). The day begins with a gathering at 8am and ends with one other one at 7pm.
Boris Johnson has a journalist’s curiosity in concepts—the larger and brighter the higher. He additionally has a Churchillian style for mavericks. Through the second world warfare Churchill surrounded himself with oddballs like Frederick Lindemann (“the Prof”), reasoning that unconventional instances required unconventional options. Mr Johnson has concluded from the previous two years of paralysis that the most secure possibility would be the riskiest, and the riskiest the most secure.
The maverick-in-chief is Mr Cummings, who sits above the Coverage Unit moderately than in it however whose affect is omnipresent. Mr Cummings is nothing if not an concepts man and incessantly units his underlings weekend homework corresponding to discovering areas of British comparative benefit that can strike worry into the European Union. The top of the Coverage Unit, Munira Mirza, is a former member of the Revolutionary Communist Get together, a Trotskyite groupuscule, and enthusiastic contributor to its home organ, Residing Marxism. Lots of her former comrades-in-arms corresponding to Claire Fox, a member of the European Parliament for the Brexit Get together, are distinguished in Conservative Eurosceptic circles.
Will the Coverage Unit be capable to protect its place on the coronary heart of presidency? It’s one factor to work your self up right into a frenzy of enthusiasm when Parliament is in recess and also you’ve been in your job for a month. It’s one other to maintain going when Parliament is in turmoil and a whole bunch of 1000’s of protesters are on the streets. Mr Johnson’s authorities might simply find yourself being one of many shortest-lived in historical past. But if it survives—and notably if it survives with an enhanced majority after an autumn election—there’s a good probability that the Coverage Unit will stay on the coronary heart of Boris-world. Mr Johnson has a detailed relationship with Ms Mirza, cast when she was one in every of his deputies as mayor of London and bolstered when she defended ill-judged feedback he had made about burqas. Throughout Mr Johnson’s first few weeks he has demonstrated the worth of power within the government, setting a transparent agenda for presidency, issuing a flurry of domestic-policy initiatives and centralising energy in Downing Road.
Which all raises an intriguing query: what insurance policies will the Coverage Unit produce if Mr Johnson will get to remain in workplace for the long run? The simplest solution to reply this query is to check Coverage Change, a centre-right think-tank whose alumni, together with Ms Mirza and Messrs Sales space-Smith and Bew, dominate the Coverage Unit and are scattered all through authorities. The think-tank has a library of papers on every thing from the Irish backstop to social care. In the mean time it’s notably serious about utilizing infrastructure spending to bind the UK collectively. It’s a measure of Coverage Change’s affect that Mr Johnson referred to its current paper on making a British area programme in his first speech on the steps of Downing Road.
A second approach is to check Mr Cummings’s voluminous weblog postings. Mr Cummings is an inveterate champion of reforming Whitehall and taking over vested pursuits (which he calls “the blob”). However maybe his most fascinating current musings concentrate on how Britain is falling behind within the race to use science and know-how to fixing sensible issues—for instance, utilizing massive information to sort out crime and agri-tech to spice up productiveness on farms.
A 3rd approach is to check Mr Johnson himself. That is tougher than you suppose. Although he has basked within the public eye for many years, Mr Johnson is a consummate shape-shifter. However a few issues strike Bagehot in regards to the prime minister in his present incarnation. One is that he sees himself as a liberal Tory who’s fulfilling the occasion’s historic operate of adjusting to the arrival of a brand new drive in British life—on this case nationalist populism. Mr Johnson is more likely to embrace a peculiar combination of liberal causes (corresponding to environmentalism) and populist ones (corresponding to stiffer jail sentences). The second is that Mr Johnson sees politics by the prism of Metropolis Corridor, his former base as mayor, simply as Mrs Could noticed it by the prism of the Residence Workplace, which she ran earlier than Downing Road. His most important focus aside from Brexit is on fundamental public companies corresponding to policing and transport. He has a (generally deadly) fascination with massive infrastructure initiatives. Leaving apart Europe—admittedly an enormous apart—Mr Johnson is intellectually nearer to Michael Heseltine, along with his enthusiasm for fixing the issues of the left-behind with state activism, than he’s to Thatcher.
All this means that, if Mr Johnson survives the following few months, Britain will likely be bombarded with an odd mixture of insurance policies. A little bit of liberalism right here and a little bit of populism there, a flurry of initiatives for left-behind Britain one second and a flurry for high-tech Britain the following. The problem for the Coverage Unit won’t be remaining on the coronary heart of presidency. It will likely be making an attempt to provide some coherence out of this mish-mash—and making an attempt to show sizzling air into concrete insurance policies which have some impression on the actual world. ■