Who wouldn’t kill to be a fly on the wall at a coffee morning involving Damian Green and his civil servant nemesis, David Normington? Normington, the home office boss who sent the rozzers round to arrest the shadow home secretary for “misconduct in public office,” last year kicked off the biggest row about MPs’ privileges since Charles I stormed into the house with a handful of cavaliers in 1642. But, perhaps from this month, Green will be popping over to home office HQ for a friendly chat with his new foe as part of a convention allowing the opposition access to the Whitehall machine before each election—just in case they win.
These “Douglas Home rules,” named after the man who introduced them, are designed to smooth the transition of power. They used to happen only just before a poll. But the pow-wows were brought forward (to begin this January) in a Blairite openness wheeze none-too-popular with his successor. Now it seems these “access arrangements” will become a regular fixture, even though they aren’t written down, and no one seems to know how often the chats will be or what should be discussed.
David Halpern, of the Institute for Government, thinks there could be “some tremendously awkward meetings in the new year.” Amusingly, David Cameron has stoked the embarrassment by asking an ex-government adviser for a “frank assessment” of whether top mandarins are up to snuff. After Greengate, Normington can hope for a beta double minus at best, with the prospect of bin bag duty if the Tories get in. Hardly the best backdrop for a full and frank “get to know you” session.
This post is taken from the news and curiosities section found at the front of the print edition of Prospect each month