Last month, the Commission for Smart Government attracted controversy when it proposed that the Prime Minister ought to be able to appoint ministers from outside Parliament. The Independent reported it thus:
“Describing its reforms as “radical”, the commission suggests giving prime ministers the ability to appoint ministers who are not parliamentarians, “to allow additional talent to be brought in from outside government”. Attempting to tackle inevitable questions of accountability to parliament, the report suggests the creation of oral committees that can summon the ministers who are not MPs or peers to appear.”
Might Boris Johnson have some sympathy with this proposal? He does seem to be developing a habit of giving wide-ranging political briefs to people who are not ministers.
Lord Frost may have been elevated before he was put in control of salvaging the Government’s position in Northern Ireland, but it was as David Frost that he delivered his speech, ‘Reflections on the revolutions in Europe‘, making a wide-ranging and political case for what Brexit meant.
Now we have Allegra Stratton, the Prime Minister’s spokesperson for COP26, attracting controversy with advice on rinsing dishes, criticising the official Net Zero target, and her preference for diesel cars over electric.
These are not unreasonable positions. But it nonetheless seems strange that a mere spokesperson is publishing articles urging voters to go ‘one step greener’ under her own name, rather than the Prime Minister’s. Indeed, it very much reads in the tone of a ministerial piece.
Perhaps it is not surprising that the role is an ill-defined one. After all, it was only conjured to find a position for Stratton after Boris Johnson rightly abandoned plans to introduce US-style televised press briefings.
But if the Prime Minister wishes Stratton to have a proper political role, then he should elevate her to the peerage as he did Frost. Contra the Commission for Smart Government, it is precisely one of the roles of the House of Lords to “allow additional talent to be brought in from outside government” – whilst remaining properly accountable to the legislature.