Photo by Ian Gavan – WPA Pool/Getty Images
In politics memory is short and ambition great. The old cling on, reluctant to let go of hard won position. The young are impatient to make their mark. With the call for renewal of policy comes pressure to promote the next generation. Underneath the Victorian splendour and the courtly Parliamentary conventions governing its debates Parliament is a brutal place. No quarter is asked or given between parties – or inside parties. High principle and low ambition seethe in a constant cauldron that generates the energy which continually propels our national politics forwards. Since the General Election Theresa May has felt the full force of this energy.
A leader can either harness this energy or be overwhelmed by it. The one sure thing that brings about political death is the sense of someone being bogged down or stalled. To weather the energy of political storms a leader has to be resilient and determined certainly, but it is not enough on its own. It is not enough to stand firm in the face of political storms. To harness this energy and make it work a leader also has to be fleet of foot, pushing forward, and changing pace. This is what the Prime Minister needs to do now.
For a start a sensible recognition of the dominance of Brexit might be for the Prime Minister to appoint herself main Brexit negotiator. There is no way round it, and she might not have had a chance to be Prime Minister without it, but Brexit is what will define her time in office, so she might as well embrace it. Damian Green should be formally entitled Deputy Prime Minister and, like Clement Attlee was in World War Two, tasked with the day-to-day implementation of domestic policy. With the full focus of the Prime Minister on the negotiations alongside Brexit Secretary David Davis we can root out with the European Union whether there is a deal to be had, and if so what it is. The sooner this is done the better things will be.
The Prime Minister needs to refresh and bring new energy to her government. Seven years in, and two Prime Ministers on, the Tories in government need a complete overhaul, from bottom to top. Her position is strong enough to do it, and it needs to be done. New energy alone is not enough. Theresa May needs more senior and experienced people in top jobs. This requires bold thinking.
Former Prime Minister David Cameron should be asked to be Foreign Secretary in the Lords, an offer he should accept. Honourably and sensibly he resigned in the wake of the referendum defeat. As a former Prime Minister he still carries authority. He is far too young to have given up front line politics, and is not old enough to be a convincing elder statesman yet. Samantha Cameron is wealthy and successful so there is no pressure on him to earn money immediately. The next edition of his memoirs would be enhanced by the final chapter not having to be about defeat at the hands of Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage. A stint as Foreign Secretary would serve his country and his party well. His presence would put some serious weight back at the top end of the Cabinet.
Similarly the jobs of Leader of the Commons and the Lords, and the role of Chief Whip in both Houses need refreshing. It would be ideal if William Hague could be persuaded to do a stint as Leader of the Lords. He too is far too young to have retired. His presence would also add much needed experience and weight at the top of government. Failing this George Young would be a heavyweight Leader of the Lords. Chief Whip Gavin Williamson has earned a department. The Commons needs an authoritative Leader. Senior and experienced people are needed in both positions. Party Chairman Patrick Mcloughlin has done his tour of duty in what is nearly always a thankless task. He has shouldered much unfair criticism and he would be pleased to move on. Brandon Lewis should succeed him. Amber Rudd should be Chancellor, Boris moved to Home Secretary, Philip Hammond elsewhere and Jeremy Hunt to defence. David Lidington is doing a fine and important job of sorting out Justice.
Renewal must take place too in Conservative policies. Little sign of fresh thinking is evident so far, despite much noise being made about it. Policies start with values, strong decent values. Concern for the poor, disadvantaged, weak and vulnerable is perfectly consistent with championing wealth creation, enterprise, and business. Family values has become a dread phrase for the Tory party, but the family in whatever form it may be found should be once again a cornerstone of Conservative concern.
Supporting hardworking and/or struggling people who are trying to do their best should be encouraged. The Tory party and the government needs to rediscover the language of values. From good values should flow good policy. No-one has done more to flag up the problems younger voters now face than David Willetts, who first identified many of the issues about the intergenerational divide in his book published in 2010, The Pinch. For some inexplicable reason he spent the Cameron years not being listened to as much as he should have been. He is another person who should be recalled out of political retirement and appointed to head up a new root and branch policy renewal.
There is one further area the Prime Minister needs to exert herself over – and that is Whitehall. The Prime Minister needs to dominate the Whitehall machine. The Cabinet Office, the very centre of the Whitehall machine, can make or break a Premiership. It should be manned by the most able ministers, tasked with ensuring the Prime Minister’s writ runs the length and breadth of the government. They should be her terriers and her enforcers.
For all the difficulties, Theresa May has an opportunity to seize the initiative and prove her detractors wrong. Those that say she is too weak to move colleagues about or to launch new policy proposals are wrong. She can and she must.