It is doubtless coincidence that vaccine fever coincides this morning with Government restructuring – or so it is claimed.
There appears to be a lobby within Downing Street that wants Lee Cain, the Government’s Director of Communications, to become Boris Johnson’s Chief of Staff.
Neither Edward Udny-Lister (as he is now) nor Dominic Cummings fill that role, though Undy-Lister, whose title is Chief Strategic Adviser, comes closer. He is also now a member of the House of Lords and, at the age of 71, presumably won’t carry on in Number 10 indefinitely.
Cain has had a number of run-ins with the lobby, and a surface reading of any such change is that it would pave the way for a smoother, slicker replacement, perhaps with an eye to Rishi Sunak-style strategic communications. Allegra Stratton is due to start as the Prime Minister’s new-fangled press spokesman in the New Year – fronting live press conferences.
But the deeper significance of Cain-to-Chief-of-Staff is that it would keep the Vote Leave fires burning in Downing Street. Like Dominic Cummings (Chief Adviser), Oliver Lewis (Brexit policy) and Chloe Westley (Social Media), “Caino” is a core member of the former Vote Team who have since transferred to Downing Street. So such a move would represent a consolidation of Vote Leave power.
Which some within the Government and Party wouldn’t like – which, if we apply the cui bono? test, suggests that the idea has been leaked to try to stop it happening. However, there is more to the story than fun and games at Downing Street.
Johnson faces, in no particular order, the following challenges: test and trace, moonshots, vaccine production, the Brexit trade negotiations, Graham Brady and the 1922 Executive, rising unemployment, an uninitiated intake of newish MPs, a revolt over housing, the rise of the WhatsApp groups, soaring borrowing, potential tax rises, Nicola Sturgeon, the Northern Research Group and, hot off the press, the Covid Recovery Group.
It is far from clear that even a majority of 80 is sufficient to meet them.
And Johnson needs – again, more or less off the top of our heads – a new Education Secretary who carries weight, a substantial Cabinet reshuffle, a single strong Party Chairman, an Andrew Mackay-style ambassador to the backbenches, a Chief of Staff, a policy response to leaving transition, flesh put on the bones of levelling-up, an economic policy, civil service and Cabinet Office reform, and a strategic defence and foreign affairs review.
As we say, vaccine enthusiasm brings with it the irresistable temptation to look ahead to “after Covid”. When that comes, we will presumably find out whether or not the Government has missing capacity and bandwidth because of the trials and tribulations of Covid…
…Or because these are there anyway. In which case, it will take a lot more than a new Chief of Staff to give Johnson and his team a new start.