Alistair Burt is MP for North East Bedfordshire and is a former Foreign Office Minister.
Although I know it seems an eternity to fans since the last football of 2013/14, there are in fact only a few short weeks between the World Cup Final and the first Football League fixtures of the new season getting underway. ConHome readers can therefore breathe a sigh that relief from non-football days is at hand!
A new season means many things for football everywhere, from Calor League Arlesey to Arsenal. Hope for some sort of success above all, be it reasonable or hopeless, with all shades in between. And for most of us there are a host of new faces to spot, in the manager’s dugout or on the pitch. There have been big money signings, and there will be much interest in how well Premiership stars do, from the exotic Ander Herrera and Siem de Jong, to the more prosaically named but equally talented Luke Shaw.
Reshuffling talent in any business is as much art as science. Which combinations will gel? Will a player who has performed brilliantly in one league transfer well to another? To what extent does temperament fulfil or deny talent? If answers were perfect and logical of course there would be no game, just dull processions to titles and honours. It is the uncertainty which is the stuff of interest and gossip.
So it will be of course when Westminster’s new season kicks off, after a slightly longer break than that of football.
The Gaffer, as I am sure the PM loves to be known, has remodelled defence, front line and midfield and the fans are expectant. As always, analogies abound – though don’t take them too far.
Rio Ferdinand, a long standing stalwart for Man Utd, goes as the elder statesman to QPR, as Michael Fallon goes to the MoD. Has the old man still got it?
Alexis Sanchez is the eye catching Arsenal signing after a great World Cup – is he the Nicky Morgan or Liz Truss of the new signings?
Cesc Fabregas returns to the Premiership – just like the excellent Nick Gibb has been brought back to a role he loves and at which he was so good in Education.
At MUFC there is a new manager to handle a legacy – so it is at the FCO, where Philip Hammond takes on an FCO re-established and made more confident by William Hague.
There have been departures, too – though that of Luis Suarez from Liverpool is a good deal more understandable than those of Damian Green, Nick Hurd or Dominic Grieve.
But the pot luck and chance is perhaps more evident at Westminster than in football. Yes, mistakes in sports personnel are made, but there is an extensive scouting system, and rigorous tests applied before highly prized, and paid, signings are made. Less so at Westminster, where the management of talent remains seriously misunderstood and unreported. Whilst the efforts made to support candidates are now much better than in the past, once at Westminster too many new MPs are left to sink or swim as in the old days. There is no management of time or position, and too little serious interviewing of talented able people who are used to a very different HR routine in the world they have just left, and to whom nineteenth century Westminster must seem extraordinary.
The result means losing some talented colleagues after just one term – which ought to make people think a bit – and a concern amongst some others that their abilities are not given full rein, and they don’t know who is really watching, guiding or promoting them. Putting together ministerial teams might benefit from some insight as to how differing personalities work together, and some nasty accidents might be avoided – but senior colleagues would rather die, I understand, than use psychometrics or similar.
This is not just about personal angst, or the inevitable down-side of politics – we can’t all be PM, or remain as Ministers, so get over it – but whether or not talent is used to the maximum; for individuals who have given up much to be MPs, for the party and the country. From my time as both a headhunter and in the Whips Office, I think we could do better. Our new inside right Michael Gove as Chief Whip might usefully have a look at this before the next intake, and before there is more unhappiness amongst the 2005 and 2010 ones.