How Boris Johnson can take back control from Dominic Cummings – Bernard Ingham

How should Boris Johnson run 10 Downing Street?How should Boris Johnson run 10 Downing Street?
How should Boris Johnson run 10 Downing Street?
YOU may never have heard of him but of your charity pray for one Dan Rosenfield, the Prime Minister’s new chief of staff.

Clever chap that he is reported to be, he will need divine help to restore the fortunes of our beleaguered government.

His first task is to be as unlike Dominic Cummings, who he effectively replaces, as an elephant is from a mouse.

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I would be more impressed with his importation from the business world at considerable financial sacrifice if he were coming back to the Civil Service as the PM’s principal private secretary – a job he once had with Chancellors Alistair Darling and then George Osborne.

Allegra Stratton, the face of Downing Street's new daily televised press briefings, enters 10 Downing Street.Allegra Stratton, the face of Downing Street's new daily televised press briefings, enters 10 Downing Street.
Allegra Stratton, the face of Downing Street's new daily televised press briefings, enters 10 Downing Street.

The Americanisation of our system, supercharged by Tony Blair with the introduction of a Supreme Court for the House of Lords, is pathetic. What Boris Johnson needs above all is a top dog who runs his office and leaves the system to Cabinet Secretary Simon Case.

Margaret Thatcher did not need a chief executive when, successively, she had Clive Whitmore, Robin Butler, Nigel Wicks and Andrew Turnbull running her office while Robert Armstrong managed the system.

They made sure that her office delivered and kept her informed of what was going on in the wider world so that, unlike Boris, she knew what she was talking about at the Dispatch Box.

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Under Rosenfield, Boris’s working day should begin with a review of the world as it is seen by the media, the anticipation of the questions likely to be thrown at him and followed up with factual briefing. With a bit of luck, we may then get a PM who looks to be in command.

Sir Bernard Ingham was the longstanding press secretary to Margaret Thatcher.Sir Bernard Ingham was the longstanding press secretary to Margaret Thatcher.
Sir Bernard Ingham was the longstanding press secretary to Margaret Thatcher.

To reinforce this effort he should arm No 10 with a press secretary whose job is to secure an informed press and public about the Government’s policies and measures and to advise Ministers on their presentation.

That, I fear, will not be achieved by Allegra Stratton pontificating from the New Year with daily televised White House-style media briefings. Another unconstitutional American import we could do without.

Some might say the Government reflects Boris’s all-embracing untidiness.

Whatever its cause, Rosenfield’s job is to tidy it up.

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He cannot do that unless he persuades Boris to re-instate genuine Cabinet government instead of the surrogate dictatorship practised by Cummings.

Between them, he and the Cabinet Secretary need to dismantle Cummings’ centralising nonsense and ensure restoration of the traditional dispersal of power that makes the PM first among equals.

Let us not forget the shabby impression left by the last major effort to centralise the British government by Tony Blair’s administrations.

It has come to a pretty pass when Cummings’ apparatus in Cabinet Office to vet all Freedom of Information demands is seen as the suppression of inconvenient truths.

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At the same time, Rosenfield needs to repair the damage done by an arrogant Cummings to Civil Service morale and relations with Boris’s Tory Parliamentary Party.

His new broom should create a regime that listens instead of scorns.

He would also win some plaudits from Parliament if he got Boris to recognise that, in our Parliamentary democracy, his job is to report and answer to a televised Parliament and not to massage TV egos in No 10.

It follows that Rosenfield faces a major “atmospherics” challenge to his diplomatic skills to restore, in league with the Cabinet Secretary, the Rolls-Royce reputation of the Civil Service. I fully accept that, like our Defence Ministry, it may need reinforcing with technological and analytic whizz-kids but above all we need to return to a system that has generally served us well, if not always brilliantly, for decades.

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Let’s end all this pretentious, reformist nonsense and get down to governing competently.

If all this sounds like the Labours of Hercules, just think of the background against which it has to be conducted:

(i) a nation grown restive on coronavirus, though with a vaccine in sight;

(ii) Brexit;

(iii) Scottish secessionism;

(iv) a worsening economic situation with rising unemployment and debts limiting our room for manoeuvre for years to come;

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(v) urgent domestic social questions affecting the NHS, social care, education and law and order;

(vi) the EU in turmoil;

(vii) a new president of the United States who is not necessarily well disposed to us now and yet to learn the error of his ways; and

(viii) the Communist world bent on global domination, with China particularly menacing.

Let us pray for all our sakes that Dan Rosenfield puts Cummings and his clique behind us and brings order out of chaos.

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