Let’s leave aside for a moment –
- Whatever Boris Johnson did or didn’t say about a second lockdown.
- Who leaked his plans for it.
- What he said in a text exchange with James Dyson, and who leaked it.
- What he said in a text to Eddie Lister (as he then was) about a Saudi bid for Newcastle United, and who leaked it.
- Whether the declaration and tax arrangements for new wallpaper in the Number 11 Downing Street flat are in order.
- Whatever it is that Dominic Cummings will say during his appearance before the Health and Science Select Committees later this month.
– and ponder some uncontested facts.
Here is a list of senior staff who have left Number Ten or moved post since the last general election.
- Dominic Cummings, Chief Adviser to the Prime Minister.
- Lord Udny-Lister, Chief Strategic Adviser to the Prime Minister, then Chief of Staff, then the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy to the Gulf.
- Lee Cain, Director of Communications.
- James Slack, Director of Communications.
- Allegra Stratton, Press Secretary.
- Oliver Lewis, Head of Number Ten’s Union Unit.
- (Mark Sedwill, the Cabinet Secretary, has also departed.)
- This isn’t a complete list of staff who have left: for example, it doesn’t include Cleo Watson, who was a senior Special Adviser. People are always coming and going from Number Ten.
- Most of those listed have not fallen out with Johnson: for example, Slack left to take up a senior post at The Sun, and the end of Udny-Lister’s term as Chief Strategic Adviser more or less coincided with his elevation to the Lords. Stratton stays on to speak for the Prime Minister on COP26.
- Other senior staff, of course, have not left. For example, Munira Mirza is still Head of the Policy Unit, Ben Gascoigne is still Political Secretary, and there is a lot of continuity in the Press, Research and Legislative Affairs teams.
- There have been at least six resignations over a matter of policy or principle, as follows: Sajid Javid (personnel); Douglas Ross (Cummings and Barnard Castle); Chris Green (Covid); Caroline Ansell (free school meals); Liz Sugg (overseas aid) and Johnny Mercer (veterans).
That’s quite a few resignations within less than two years; a fairly stable Cabinet, and a measure of stability within Number Ten staff…except at or near the top, where there has been a lot of turnover.
If the Government is to deliver post-Brexit and post-Covid, especially on levelling up, Johnson needs more continuity, less drama and more stability within his top team.
We are nowhere near a leadership challenge, most Conservative MPs are reassured by the polls, and until or unless these change, or next month’s local election results are unexpectedly poor, they will take most of the current allegations with a pinch of salt.
Furthermore, they don’t rate Keir Starmer, as a rule; believe that Labour is still alienated from much of its core constituency – and are feel a morale-boosting effect from Britain’s vaccine success.
But the stream of comings and goings has been clocked on the backbenches, and has left many of them exasperated and bewildered. Slowing it down would be a useful insurance policy for the Prime Minister against a rainy day.