Damian Green follows in the footsteps of George Osborne, William Hague and, most colourfully, Peter Mandelson.
Gordon Brown sought to save his primeministership by the astonishing step of recalling his arch Blairite enemy, Mandelson, from Brussels and giving him the grand post of First Secretary of State.
When Theresa May called Green to her side after the general election had not gone entirely according to plan, and gave him the same job, Mandelson texted him at once with some important advice:
“Welcome to what is a fairly small club. Make sure you get my old office in the Cabinet Office, which is quite grand.”
It is of course the grandest office in the building.
Green, however, gives himself no airs at all. While submitting at a ConHome fringe meeting to over an hour of questions from Isabel Oakeshott, he demonstrated that if the Conservative Party can be saved by good-humoured moderation, and a shrewd ability to take the heat out of the difficulties which excite some of his colleagues, the Prime Minister was right to turn to him.
Asked by Oakeshott about collective Cabinet discipline, he replied: “In the end, self-discipline is the only form of discipline that works.”
Green added that “nobody has yet said they disagree with government policy,” and remarked of Boris Johnson: “Boris is doing what Boris has always done, adding to the gaiety of nations.”
So there will be no over-reaction to the Foreign Secretary’s ebulitions: “Boris is a good person to have in government.”
Oakeshott put it to him that “nobody believes” May will fight the next general election, but Green at once replied, in his usual amiable tone: “I believe it.”
He observed, to laughter, that “the popularity of snap elections may have gone down in 2017, which means “we’re talking about 2022”, and by then the party conference of 2017 “will seem a very long time ago”.
When challenged about the Prime Minister’s recent statement that we’re not seeking “competitive advantage” from the Brexit deal, Green insisted that what she actually said was, “We’re not seeking unfair competitive advantage.”
Why not? Because, in Green’s words, “We play by the rules. It’s quite an important point.”
So a belief in fair play can be added to Green’s other admirable characteristics. He will leave it to others to set the Thames on fire. His task is to put fires out, and it is hard to think of anyone better fitted to the task.