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Volume 50 Number 26, July 11, 2020 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

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Changing Arrangements at Number 10

One set of arrangements that is being reorganised in the present conditions is that of the Prime Minister, and the Prime Minister's private office and inner circle, and their relations to the Cabinet and government as a whole, including Parliament. An article by Harry Lambert for the New Statesman written in March describes how "parliament has been silenced and an inner circle of power-brokers are driving Downing Street's agenda" [1].

Tony Blair "started this business", Lambert quotes former Father of the House of Commons Ken Clarke as saying, "which we now govern the country on, of having all these apparatchiks in Number 10... And that is more important than the cabinet really", while former New Labour minister Lord Adonis claims that a "court has developed", which "has effectively created a government within a government". It is the case that, particularly since the time of Tony Blair, the trend has been for the Prime Minister to assume what has been called a "presidential style" - in other words, to assume absolute control, under which even the Cabinet is usurped by the Prime Minister and inner circle.

The Number 10 Policy Unit (set up by Harold Wilson in 1974, when the previous period of social democratic arrangements was going into crisis) is a team of usually around ten to fifteen advisers and civil servants that provides policy advice to the Prime Minister. Lambert explains that the unit "has traditionally been located on a long corridor on the second floor of Number 10, far away from the prime minister's office on the ground floor. In Johnson's Downing Street, advisers have been hot-desking in a bid to break down silos between staff, but the unit remains distant from the prime minister."

Lambert tells us that, three days after the Brexit referendum, an email from Cummings to Johnson and Gove spoke of the plan to "change the Number 10 and 11 system so it's essentially one team, not two rival power centres", linking the Prime Minister's office with the Treasury - the resignation of Sajid Javid might well be seen in this light. Now a new joint unit co-ordinating policy between Number 10 and the Treasury has been set up, directed by Liam Booth-Smith acting as proxy for Cummings, to whom Booth-Smith (lead adviser to Chancellor Rishi Sunak) reports.

Lambert says this of Booth-Smith, who was head of the "neo-localist" think tank Localis from 2016-18, and his new role:

"The most critical set of rules Booth-Smith will need to navigate are the Treasury's. Number 10 clashed with Javid over his fidelity to fiscal principles structured to limit borrowing. Booth-Smith has been outspoken about evading such restraints. In 2017 he even advocated tax rises, arguing that Theresa May was 'trapped by the 2015 Conservative manifesto' and should 'free up the government's revenue-raising capacity'. An important government figure tells me that levelling up is 'a Number 10/Treasury thing' and 'the levers are emphatically - if not wholly - economic ones'."

Lambert also hints at contradictions with the existing Number 10 Policy Unit: "But its power has yet to be defined and could easily wane. That is clear from the history of the Number 10 Policy Unit, now being run by Mirza."

Munira Mirza assumed directorship of the Number 10 Policy Unit in July 2019. Until two years earlier, Mirza had been employed by then Mayor of London Boris Johnson from 2008-16 in various roles, eventually as Deputy Mayor of London for Culture and Education from 2012. Before that, she was Development Director for the influential conservative Policy Exchange think tank. Policy Exchange, funded by Open Society Foundations, was jointly founded by Michael Gove in 2002 [2].

Mirza, who Lambert describes as "the third-most influential adviser in Downing Street", was appointed by Johnson in June to lead a new government commission on racial inequality. Her views on the subject are well known: "a lot of people in politics think it's a good idea to exaggerate the problem of racism", she said in 2017 of Labour MP David Lammy's review of racism in the criminal justice system, commissioned by David Cameron during his Prime Ministerial term.

The Institute of Race Relations said in response: "Any enquiry into inequality has to acknowledge structural and systemic factors. It is difficult to have any confidence in policy recommendations from someone who denies the existence of the very structures that produce the social inequalities experienced by black communities."


[1] Harry Lambert, "Who's in charge inside No 10: the maverick advisers running Britain", The New Statesman, March 4, 2020

Lambert lists the following "key influentials" in Johnson's government (Lambert's descriptions):

1. Dominic Cummings, 48. Johnson's chief adviser retains control of Number 10, despite persistent rumours of his impending demise. Many of Johnson's plans, from his "Australian-style" immigration system to investment in science, can be traced back to Cummings.

2. Edward Lister, 70. Lister is Johnson's most trusted aide. As Johnson's chief at staff at City Hall, he made the building run for five years. A former council leader with decades of operational experience in business, he is the counterweight to Cummings inside Number 10.

3. Munira Mirza, 42. Mirza, another stalwart from Johnson's time at City Hall, is an underappreciated star of the Johnson project. As head of the Policy Unit, she runs a team of around a dozen advisers, but her bond with Johnson is greater than her official role.

4. Liam Booth-Smith, 33. Booth-Smith was recently promoted to run the new Number 10/11 economic team, the latest leap in a rapid rise. Four years ago, the young aide was working in press for a public services consultancy, but he has impressed since Lister brought him into Number 10 in July.

5. Mark Sedwill, 55. Sedwill holds the dual role of Cabinet Secretary and National Security Adviser, giving him frequent access to Johnson across both domestic and foreign affairs. He is the first Cabinet Secretary to have risen through the Foreign Office. [Sedwill has now announced his departure. The role of National Security Adviser is to be filled by Brexit negotiator David Frost - WW.]

6. Michael Gove, 52. Gove is right at the centre of Johnson's government, despite their seismic falling-out in 2016. He is overseeing the delivery of Number 10's agenda across Whitehall, and his network of former advisers and allies extends across both Downing Street and the Cabinet.

7. Carrie Symonds, 31. "Carrie and Dom" are, says one Downing Street observer, the "most influential" people in Johnson's life. Symonds, now Johnson's fiancée and pregnant, was first revealed as his partner in September 2018. She spent her twenties working as a press adviser for the Tory party.

8. Lee Cain, 37. Johnson's director of communications is an unlikely press chief. He was working in PR for a law firm when he was made head of broadcast for Vote Leave in 2016. He later joined Johnson in the Foreign Office, and stuck with him on the back benches, earning the PM's trust.

9. Ben Gascoigne, 36. Gascoigne joined Johnson as a "bag-carrier" in 2009. He has, says a friend, "been unflinchingly loyal to Boris since then, and will be until he dies". A well-liked and unassuming aide, who grew up in Pendle, he was made political secretary after the election.

10. John Bew, 40. Bew, a New Statesman contributing writer, is in the Policy Unit, advising on foreign affairs and the Union. Described by Gove as "one of the outstanding historians of his generation", his biography of Clement Attlee won plaudits from across the aisle.

11. Andrew Gilligan, 51. Gilligan, the reporter who controversially claimed the Iraq War dossier was "sexed up", worked with Johnson at City Hall as his "cycling tzar". He is now advising on infrastructure and is one of six Policy Exchange veterans in Number 10.

12. Danny Kruger, 45. Kruger's maiden Commons speech, with its call to preserve a sense of place and local culture against the tide of capitalism, was widely shared by post-liberals. Kruger is one of several former Johnson aides now in parliament; he was his political secretary before the election.

13. Rachel Wolf, 34. Wolf co-wrote the Tory manifesto with Mirza. She first worked for Johnson as a 21-year old and went on to set up the New Schools Network in 2010 with the support of Gove, then education secretary. Her husband, James Frayne, was a close ally of Cummings for a decade.

[2] Zoe Williams, "Brains for hire: the thinktank", The Guardian, October 27, 2010


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