It’s obviously true that changing leaders does not change the Parliamentary arithmetic. I’m no doubt guilty of restating that fact a few times myself in recent weeks. It does matter, of course, when there’s legislation to pass and hostile amendments intended to obstruct Brexit left scattered around the Palace of Westminster like whoopee cushions, waiting for an unsuspecting Bill to sit on them.
But at times it has seemed that to many observers, analysts and commentators the Parliamentary arithmetic is all that matters – that because it is unchanged by Boris Johnson becoming Prime Minister, then his arrival in Downing Street changes nothing at all.
It would be hard to argue that position now. Just a few days into the new Government, and a lot has changed already.
To begin with, we’ve seen change to the ministerial personnel, the structure of the state, policies in a wide range of areas, the tone and mood of the governing party, and the opinions of the electorate, which are not inconsiderable things. As the Prime Minister gets into his stride we are also starting to see the actions of officialdom alter, too – the recruitment of 20,000 new police officers is starting shortly, Sajid Javid is reportedly unlocking £1 billion for No Deal preparation this week, Liz Truss is off to Washington for trade talks, and even the stance of the Royal Navy in the Gulf appears to be firming up.
It’s easy to forget that while Parliament is rightly important (and arguably not yet as important as it ought to be), the powers of the executive in our system are extensive, given the authority, will and imagination to use them. There are myriad ways in which ministers and their advisors are able to effect practical change without recourse to the Commons for new legislation. As Camilla Cavendish, formerly head of policy in Downing Street, wrote recently, the search for such opportunities must be energetic and endless.
In the May years, particularly towards the end, paralysis in Downing Street wasn’t just a product of the state of play in Parliament, it was a force of its own, spreading out from a demoralised and frozen Prime Minister and pushed by an obstructionist Chancellor. It would be a mistake to imagine that pure optimism, positivity and force of will from their successors can overcome every obstacle – Parliament exists for a good reason – but in our system of Government those attributes are not simply hot air and bluster, they go a lot further than people sometimes imagine. The new Government intends to find out how far.