This weekend the country is absorbing the outcome of the General Election. Politicians, party activists and journalists are exhausted after seven weeks of campaigning. Emotions on all sides are running high. Everyone is waiting to see what happens next. Only one person can provide the answer – Theresa May. This weekend the pressure and the loneliness of holding the nation’s top job must be acute.
Having won more votes than Tony Blair did in 1997 and 60 seats more than the Labour Party Mrs May clearly leads the party the country wants to govern. With the new Parliament about to assemble early next week and Brexit discussions about to begin, tough decisions and bold action are now required. The Prime Minister in a quietly resolute way has begun that task. She had appointed the senior members of the Cabinet, despatched her Chief Whip to sort out a working arrangement with the DUP which he has successfully achieved, and appointed a new Chief of Staff, Gavin Barwell.
It is common practice to refer to No 10 or Downing Street when referring to what a Prime Minister is doing, or permitting. In reality “the House”, as it is referred to by those who work there, its atmosphere and how it works is always a reflection of the mood and temperament of its principal occupant, the Prime Minister.
Since Tony Blair imported the role the job of chief of staff has become a key focus of how the hub of British government works. The appointment of Barwell as chief of staff is the strongest signal the Prime Minister is serious and determined to regain the political initiative and move the country forward. Her regard and respect for Barwell were demonstrated when shortly before the General Election she made him a Privy Councillor. He has served as a CCHQ staffer, Special Advisor, Member of Parliament, whip and Minister. He is well known and liked around Westminster as a professional and serious operator. He is sober and courteous, charming and above all tough. His presence will give the Prime Minister a calm and orderly space in which to work. In other words he is well placed to support the Prime Minister in the difficult task that lies ahead.
Alongside the new Chief of Staff is the experienced and seasoned Cabinet Secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood. In various No 10 roles has served four Prime Ministers. Together in difficult circumstances they make as formidable a team as any Prime Minister could wish to have at their side.
The Brexit negotiations will grab most of the attention as the biggest single aspect, but it isn’t the thing that worries most people day-to-day. It may worry senior policy makers, editors of tabloids and leaders of business, but to most people the consequences of the referendum seem, wrongly, not to be a thing of immediate concern.
People want a healthy economy, good roads, doctors and hospitals, teachers and schools, houses they can afford, and politicians who can show they understand them. David Cameron’s decision to hold the referendum in 2016 means the Conservative Party fully, and solely, owns the result.
The party now needs to row in hard behind Theresa May and her new chief of staff so she can both deliver Brexit in a reasonable and timely way, and deliver a domestic policy programme that can improve people’s lives.