This morning’s newslinks feature George Osborne prominently. Not only has he launched his own (absurd) timetable for the Brexit negotiations, but one of his remaining appointees has walked out of the Government.
Not only has Lord O’Neill stepped down as Commercial Secretary to the Treasury, he’s also resigned the Conservative whip, and will now sit in the Lords as a crossbench peer. He is, naturally, keeping the peerage he was given only a year ago.
O’Neill cites concerns about Osborne’s pet projects, Chinese relations and the Northern Powerhouse, which he was brought in to oversee – and it’s very difficult to believe that he would have taken this step without discussing it with the former Chancellor, who brought him into Government in the first place.
One writer thinks this episode suggests May should have been a bit more ruthless than even she was in purging Osborne’s network from the corridors of power.
But it also illustrates the pitfalls of the fashion, common to both the Blair and Cameron ministries, of trying to recruit non-political figures, often without even Party loyalty, into the Government.
Some of these individuals can be perfectly capable ministers, technically speaking, but trying to ignore the political aspect of being in power stores up trouble for the future – especially when the time comes to reshuffle them out, when you often end up loosing a new, utterly disloyal peer into the upper house.
Indulging this technocratic style also creates the unhelpful impression of a “governing class”. Much as some might sniff at partisan politics, it’s actually essential for breaking up that sense of a remote and united elite – what Rafael Behr termed “the stateless tribe of Remainia” which came together to defend Britain’s EU membership.
Politics is a feature of government, not a bug. For all their faults, political parties are a much better basis for coherent government than a random assortment of technical experts, who can always be consulted as necessary.
Theresa May seems to recognise this: her first Cabinet has been long on Party veterans and short on attempts to poach eye-catching individuals with no political loyalty to her or the Conservatives. Perhaps this is another innovation of the Blair era which is being put to bed.