The defining feature of the Blair-Brown years has been incompetence. A massive gap between often good ideas and implementation. The reasons are many but include a decline in the quality of the civil service (a decline related to over-centralisation and the targets culture) but also ministers that lack many basic executive skills.
An awareness of this caused David Cameron to appoint Francis Maude to oversee a preparation-for-government or ‘Implementation Office’. The Office’s work will headline at the Birmingham Party Conference. The Office’s operating model was roadtested by the election of Boris Johnson and with mixed results.
Other big thinking on this front focuses on the Downing Street operation and the membership of the first Cameron Cabinet. The Observer recently reported an outreach operation to Tony Blair’s advisers. That outreach may be politically uncomfortable for some Conservatives but it’s very sensible to learn lessons from people who have experience of managing the Downing Street-to-Whitehall relationship.
Most interesting, however, is talk of bringing back a number of Major-era Cabinet ministers. Ken Clarke’s return has already been well-trailed (and given a thumbs up by most Tory members). Also thought possible is the return of Michael Howard as Lord Chancellor. The other top three big beast of the last Major Cabinet – Sir Malcolm Rifkind – is also available. Other individuals that might return to the Cabinet include Stephen Dorrell, John Gummer, John Redwood and Peter Lilley (all used by Mr Cameron in his policy review process). David Cameron is concerned that his shadow cabinet lacks ministerial experience. Only William Hague has served at Cabinet level. Four or five of the individuals serving in the shadow cabinet at the next General Election arte unlikely to make it to the top table should office follow polling day. Only when they have proven themselves at minister of state level will they replace the Major generation – expected to serve for two or three years while a new generation is blooded.
Readers of ConHome who enjoy a bet might also place some money on Lord Trimble playing a role and also a LibDem like David Laws. Cameron doesn’t intend to repeat Blair’s mistake and stop the lovebombing of the LibDems once a first victory is in the bag.