The phrase is Tim Montgomerie’s. He used to deploy it roughly as follows. Yes, politics means making choices. But they doesn’t always have to be either/or. The Conservatives can have immigration control and international development. Green growth and more fracking. Same-sex marriage and transferable tax allowances.
The new majority Tory Government won’t necessarily smile on these examples. But it will want to follow the principle. To this end, ConservativeHome is reviving The Politics Of And. In one series, we will examine Securing the Majority. In another, Growing the Majority. Boris Johnson will want to do both.
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The view from Conservatives inside government is excoriating. Government appointments are “a job creation scheme for civil servants”.
The picture is of a blobocracy of civil servants appointing other quangocrats to committees who in turn appoint other quangocrats to committees who in turn – but you get the point. “It’s a self-perpetuating oligarchy,” one insider told ConHome.
Call us – or our sources – paranoid, but it doesn’t mean that the system isn’t out to get Conservatives (with a big C and sometimes without one).
“There’s a general bias towards “appointability’,” another source told us. “That means ease with all the diversity and equality jargon. Nothing wrong with these aims in themselves. But the candidates for appointment who tend to be most fluent in the language tend to be Soft Left.”
It is a familiar refrain. When Chief Executive at Business for Britain, Matthew Elliott’s pieces on biases within Appointments became the stuff of ConHome legend.
David Cameron was in Coalition, and his team didn’t really focus on appointments until relatively late in the day. The Francis Maude got stuck in from the Cabinet Office, together with two energetic SpAds: Simone Finn (now Baroness Finn) and our former columnist, Henry Newman, later of Open Europe.
Legend has it that Maude was once asked how many Permanent Secretaries had left their posts since Cameron became Prime Minister. To which he replied: “Not enough.”
Oliver Dowden, now very much an up-and-coming Minister, took an interest when Deputy Chief of Staff at Downing Street. Their work made a bit of a difference. David Prior went to the Care Quality Commission; Lord Green to the Natural History Museum. William Shawcross to the Charities Commission; Peter Bazalgette to the Arts Council.
Then Cameron went, Theresa May came, the Conservative majority vanished – and progress was carted off to the deep freeze. Now there is a Tory majority of the best part of a hundred, and two strategic options going forward.
The first would be for Downing Street and CCHQ to seek a massive punch-up with the civil service over appointments, and seek to wrest political control of the system. This isn’t going to happen. Number Ten needs the civil service to help deliver its priorities, and even as revolutionary a figure as Dominic Cummings knows this well.
There is some room for manoeuvre with “appointability”. The Code for Government Appointments could do with an overhaul. Boris Johnson could do a lot worse than appoint Baroness Finm to conduct a review.
But a different approach is likely to bear more fruit more swiftly. The long and short of it is that Number Ten needs to oversee a kind of shadow system – part of it government; another part Party (since taxpayers’ money can’t and shouldn’t find party political activity).
Each week, this site runs details of prominent government and public sector vacancies, in order to encourage Conservatives to apply. The shadow system needs to build on it.
It can identify potential candidates; encourage them to apply; train them for interview (which would be a CCHQ or Party operation), spot and stop attempts to carve them out – yes, these things have been known to happen – and encourage Ministers to take an interest in appointments and question recommendations.
In this way, public and Party interest would come together. Public bodies need diverse people as members. And Conservatives, whether they come with a small c or a big one, are part of the tapestry of diversity. If Downing Street hasn’t already been on the blower to Lord Maude, it should be.