The focus has been on surface politics but structural problems of government must be addressedby David Henig / July 18, 2019 / Leave a comment
This summer in UK politics was always going to be dominated by Brexit. The UK faces its greatest peace-time political crisis in modern history. The discussion now extends to deservedly obscure clauses of an international treaty dating back to 1948, and the even more arcane and historic prorogue powers held by the sovereign in our constitution.
All of this is important. But the political discussion has come at the expense of talking about other fundamental issues in the delivery of Brexit. Peer under the surface of the government’s Brexit handling since 2016 and we see much that needs fixing if the part that is most apparent to us, the actual negotiation, is to be successful.
According to the famous dictum, you campaign in poetry and govern in prose. But several practicalities have largely been ignored, not just in the context of Brexit but for all policy areas.
Talk to civil service veterans and often their first comment is not on the big Brexit politics but the governing basics, of making sure there is a government machinery able to make decisions. This requires an effective heart of government operation, run by cabinet office and No 10 officials, making decisions in a coordinated and effective manner.
In the last three years this has broken down. Too many minor decisions were referred to the heart of government, where they were often delayed by months. Meanwhile major decisions, such as producing a trade strategy beyond Brexit, were not taken at all.
Unless the new prime minister swiftly fixes this inheritance they will struggle to achieve anything. It will also mean reversing the May administration’s suffocating secrecy. On leaving government in 2018 my early meetings with business were dominated by complaints of not knowing what was happening. Having sometimes spoken to people on both sides of the same meeting, what businesses were perhaps less aware of was that the officials they were talking with felt the same. Clearly the chances of building a shared mission or indeed effective policy under these conditions were low.
Establishing more positive relations with business generally is going to be one of the toughest challenges for the new PM. It took Theresa May most of her time in office to realise the importance of good relations even if…