Adam Holloway is MP for Gravesham, a former soldier, documentary maker, and ITN reporter.
During last week’s reshuffle, almost every report made reference to the determination of the Government to “look more like the country”: in almost everyone’s words to bring in younger, more diverse, ideally female people to government. There were happy single-sex photographs at Downing Street, and other photos outside Conservative Campaign Headquarters. Is it not demeaning to those of talent to focus so much on class, age, sex or BME characteristics? Looking through the list, those promoted have a lot to offer. But do the British people want a government that seeks to correct the perceived wrong of “under-representation”, or instead a government made up of the best people to do the job of governing on their behalf whoever they are and wherever they come from?
Years ago, I was a soldier. In the army, does a commander select the team they want to go out on a specific patrol based on how members of that team look, or on what skills, capabilities and character they offer? I have not seen any coverage commenting on the qualities or experience of anyone in government to the job to which they have been appointed. It feels as if this rather important point no longer seems to matter.
The other day I heard someone say that the Conservatives have more ability on its backbenches than its front. This may not be true, as the front bench is massive, and anyway I don’t spend enough time in the Tea Room or crawling over people’s Wikipedia entries to know. What is true is that there is no modern “Human Resources Management” anywhere within the Tory Party in a position even to begin to answer this question. Of course, I recognise that there are a hell of a lot of people far far more capable than me on the backbenches.
I think my constituents want the best man or woman available to take charge of how good the schools are, how long a loved-one spends waiting in A&E, or all the other things that government ministers do. Here in the Westminster bubble the Conservatives seem to have slammed straight into the prejudice of affirmative action to make ourselves feel better. I firmly believe that the people living in my constituency are not thinking about whether or not the person in charge happens to have gone to a particular school or university, how old they are, or anything else. They just want the best man or woman for the job at this time of global uncertainty, Brexit, and unprecedented challenges to the role and reach of the state.
Surely it is our duty to serve this country by doing everything we can to get it right? We are much more likely to do that if we field the best available team. How does it help our people when we are grateful for transient pats on the back from the tiny vocal minority around the Westminster bubble? We can’t know for sure, but adhering to these new and un-Conservative orthodoxies may mean that in the future we do not offer the best available ministerial team for the people we serve.