Wednesday 19 February 2020


I'm always looking for ideas and interpretations that help me make better sense of what's happening in the world - and when I do my natural inclination now is to produce a blogpost so I can widen the currency of those insights. Speaking for myself - but I suspect for many others too - I find I suffer from message overload. So much to read; so much information to process; the time and space to process it all simply isn't there. That's the conundrum I am looking to solve. These blogposts, centred on social and economic and political matters, are part of my way of solving that problem. They serve as digests of the more significant stuff I come across and the ideas that this material generates for me.

My initial inspiration for this blogpost I owe to the Daily Mirror and its online political editorial team. I read their telling analysis last weekend at the same time as other penetrating articles in the London Review of Books (LRB) and in the Morning Star daily newspaper.  Here, in this first post in the series, is the Daily Mirror's perceptive take on the significance of Boris Johnson's cabinet reshuffle last week (13/14 February, 2020):

In the course of Johnson's cabinet reshuffle, the chancellor, Sajid Javid, resigned rather than accept the loss of his special advisors - and was replaced by Rishi Sunak. Sunak was prepared to accept an unprecedented degree of control from Johnson and his extraordinary special advisor, Dominic Cummings, at No. 10 Downing Street. 


'Boris Johnson and string-pulling aide Dominic Cummings have mounted a huge power grab - with implications for the economy, legal system, foreign aid and women. Here's what you need to lose sleep over:

Boris Johnson and his string-pulling aide Dominic Cummings have launched a massive power grab as the Prime Minister reshuffles his Cabinet.

Downing Street seized control of the Treasury yesterday, breaking down a historic separation
between the man who wants to spend money and the man who has to count it.

1. The Chancellor's power has been seized by 10 Downing Street

Downing Street seized control of the Treasury yesterday, breaking down a historic separation between the man who wants to spend money and the man who has to count it.
Sajid Javid quit as Chancellor to be replaced by mansion-dwelling, billionaire heiress's husband Rishi Sunak - who at 39 was the most junior of ministers only seven months ago.
But there are more reasons than just that bloodbath to make the British public worried.
Women and the north of England could lose representation, while the Attorney General has vowed to crush "activist" courts and the foreign aid secretary has hit out at foreign aid.
And fears the PM will lead a Cabinet of poodles seemed to be answered this morning - when they dutifully repeated his misleading claims from the election campaign.

Dominic Cummings - chief special advisor to PM Johnson -
Cummings was born in Durham in 1971; his father worked in the construction industry; his mother was a teacher; an uncle was a former Lord Justice of Appeal - he attended a state primary school and then Durham School, a public school, from where he went on to Exeter College, Oxford, graduating with a First in Ancient and Modern History. From 1994-7, he was engaged in various roles in post-Soviet Russia, speaks Russian and is a Russophile. No doubt, he is impressed with Putin's political gamesmanship and skills and success. Cummings has a high-regard for his own talents and a clear distaste and hostility towards established conventions and those people he regards as second-rate. He was instrumental in helping secure victory for the Leave side of the argument in the 2016 Referendum     

2. The new Attorney General wants to 'take back control' from judges

Boris Johnson has appointed a new Attorney General who attacked "judicial activism" and said judges were "trespassing" on politics.
Hardliner Suella Braverman's promotion lays bare the extent of No10's crackdown on the judiciary.
The Prime Minister is already planning a “constitution, democracy and rights commission” tasked with ensuring judicial reviews are not “abused to conduct politics by another means or to create needless delays.”
Ousted Attorney General Geoffrey Cox had toed the line, a bit - but he was also a keen defender of the legal system, and his legal advice on Brexit was a thorn in Prime Ministers' sides.
Now the PM's power grab may go more smoothly as Ms Braverman looks unlikely to stand in his way.
Only last month she lambasted a "chronic and steady encroachment by the judges adding: "I do question their trespass into inherently political terrain." She added: "We must take back control, not just from the EU, but from the judiciary."

Suella Braverman - the new attorney General - a barrister who was elected an MP in 2015. Here's the Wikipedia link to find out more about a new face and name at the top table: Suella Braverman 

3. The new foreign aid Secretary wants 'charity to begin at home'

Development Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan wrote: "Charity begins at home"  
Just like Priti Patel before her, the International Development Secretary is a critic of foreign aid - despite now being in charge of the 0.7% spent from UK GDP on struggling countries.
Brexiteer Anne-Marie Trevelyan backed Boris Johnson for the leadership after becoming MP for Berwick-upon-Tweed in 2015. But she may not show the same loyalty to recipients of aid cash.
In 2012 she replied to a tweet saying “no one in Africa should go hungry” by saying: “Nor in the UK. There r kids in NE who have no regular meals due to chaotic parents. Should they go hungry”.
In 2013 she wrote: "Charity begins at home".
She also tweeted a 2017 article by fellow right-winger Priti Patel which said: “Waste of cash on vanity projects in far-flung lands kept me awake at night.”
Aid spending has repeatedly been protected as 0.7% of GDP and there's no sign of that changing. But sources have suggested more of that cash could be spent on projects that benefit Britain directly.

Anne-Marie Trevelyan - see the Wikipedia link for another new face and name at the top table: Anne-Marie Trevelyan

4. There are now just six women in Cabinet

The run-up to the reshuffle was full of briefings from No10 that women would be promoted.
Yet even after sources explicitly pledged to retain the same number of women ministers in the top team - seven - Boris Johnson ended up with six out of 22.
They are Home Secretary Priti Patel, Trade Secretary Liz Truss, Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey, Lords leader Baroness Evans, International Development Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan, and Tory chairwoman Amanda Milling.
(Technically the Attorney General, Suella Braverman, "attends Cabinet" rather than being a member).
Two women are new to the Cabinet - Ms Trevelyan and Ms Milling - but in return three women were booted out: Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom, Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers, and Culture Secretary Nicky Morgan who was long expected to quit but keeps a seat in the Lords.

Downing Street insists it is promoting more women into junior ranks who can then join the Cabinet years down the line. No10 also says many women are "attending" Cabinet.
But this won't wash with any woman who compares themselves to Rishi Sunak, promoted from a junior housing minister to Chancellor aged 39 in seven months.
And it is another blow in Boris Johnson's claim to be running the "people's government".

Boris Johnson as the President of the Oxford Union with the Greek minister for culture, Melina Mercouri - out of little acorns, over-mighty premiers grow.  

5. The Northern Powerhouse minister's demoted - despite a focus on the north

The headlines were dominated by Sajid Javid's resignation.
But another resignation was less well noticed - that of Northern Powerhouse minister Jake Berry.
He left after being offered a different role that "would have required substantial amounts of foreign travel."
He tweeted: "I have 3 children under 3 - the youngest of whom is less than a week old. Family will always come first and I felt unable to accept the offer."
Now, we should make clear there is a new Northern Powerhouse minister - Simon Clarke, the MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland.
But crucially the role of Northern Powerhouse minister has been demoted. Previously the minister attended Cabinet - giving him a crucial ear in the most powerful room in the country. With Mr Clarke, that will no longer be the case.
It's a strange move from a government that won a landslide from 'Red Wall' former Labour seats across the Midlands and the North of England, and vowed to repay those voters' trust. 

What price regional equality under this new style of government? 

6. A Northern Ireland Secretary who was actually liked in Belfast is gone

Julian Smith was axed as Northern Ireland Secretary after a row with No10 about how to address the legacy of the Troubles. There were concerns it could pave the way for prosecutions of British soldiers.
For a moment just ignore the fact that allies of Mr Smith dismissed these concerns - and claims Boris Johnson was kept out of the loop - as "absolute crap".
No - in getting rid of Mr Smith, Boris Johnson has ditched that rare thing of a Northern Ireland Secretary people in Northern Ireland actually liked.
His predecessor Karen Bradley was accused of failing to understand the legacies of the Troubles. And last month Mr Smith did what she couldn't - helped restore power-sharing in Stormont after three years.
A DUP source said: "Without him, devolution wouldn't have been restored."
Colum Eastwood of the SDLP called him "the most successful Secretary of State in a decade."
Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said Mr Smith was "one of Britain's finest politicians of our time".
New instability risks reigniting rows in the north just as successor Brandon Lewis takes the helm.
Meanwhile, Mr Smith said this morning: “I think my future plans are things like going to the pub.”

50 years on from the Troubles - a reminder of how much is at stake and the need for good government from Westminster

7. The housing crisis now has its 10th minister in 10 years

The Tories have now churned through TEN Housing Ministers in less than 10 years after Esther McVey was sacked in the Cabinet reshuffle. 
The departure of yet another Housing Minister will spark alarm amid a row over the Grenfell Tower fire - and the battle to make cladded tower blocks safe.
Tory chiefs are also facing scrutiny over rising child homelessness, high rough sleeping and the decision to build thousands of 'affordable' homes instead of social rented homes at a lower rent.
Nick Sanderson, chief executive of luxury retirement village firm Audley Group, said: "It’s hardly surprising that short termism remains the order of the day. A lack of understanding of the real issues continues to lead to sticking plaster policies like building more houses."
Ms McVey has been replaced by Tory Chris Pincher.'

Never forget - Tory misgovernment is at the root of this tragedy

Seven reasons, then, to be seriously worried about this new turn in our experience of misgovernment. 
Over the last four years that I have been publishing from this blogspot, I have consistently argued the case that we have been subject to misgovernment under the Tories since 2010. Visit my webpage: 'The Road to Justice' to access scores and scores of blogposts that demonstrate this scandalous exercise of power at the expense of the many. But this Tory elite has enjoyed the fruits of their own cunning and a measure of good fortune. They have been returned to power in three general elections - in 2015, 2017 and 2019.  
Their general election victory in 2019 under Johnson may have been largely due to the appeal of the misleading and soon-to-be-exposed slogan: 'Get Brexit Done'. The Tory share of the vote increased only marginally; the Labour share collapsed in enough places to leave the Tories with their majority of 80 seats. But what has been created now is the opportunity for a PM - who in my wife Louise's words is 'ruthlessly ambitious and morally bankrupt' - to change the way we are governed. This will be misgovernment in a new style - an approach that has no precedent. So much power is now being concentrated in the hands of a PM who quite frankly never had the competence for the job in the first place, never mind in this new self-made world of increased power. It's a scary prospect. We need to understand what is happening - and resist. 
Next week, I'll share the insights I have gleaned from the LRB and the Morning Star. 


  1. Yes I certainly do consider that the current resident in No 10 is morally bankrupt and ruthlessly ambitious - and it seems to me that he might be seen as a role model for some of the others in the Tory ranks.. are they going for a who is the most ruthless, morally .. is this how I get into the cabinet..
    Ancient Chinese curse - May you live in interesting times ... we most certainly are and I will be very happy when the values of equality, fairness and care for those in need return. Is Clement Attlee turning in his grave?