Dear Mr Cummings
I have seen your blog advertisement for corkscrew thinkers and wish to apply for the post.
First, I should like to get a couple of possible objections out of the way. I note that in other categories you want ‘recent’ economics graduates, and ‘VERY clever young people’. I am in my sixties and think that we have had enough of the enthusiastic, brilliant, thrusting types that burdened us with New Labour and have very nearly destroyed our financial system (the silly quants); perhaps it is time they made way for an older man.
Also, you say you ‘don’t want more Oxbridge English graduates who chat about Lacan at dinner parties.’ I did read English at Oxford, it’s true; but before the impenetrable nonsense of post-structuralism hit the subject there. Besides, you yourself read History at Exeter College and as with many other arts graduates (think of Douglas Adams) the wooliness obviously stimulated your interest in science, philosophy and anything else that might actually seek objective truth.
And so, from objections to objectives. Although your advertisement betrays impatience and ruthlessness, it’s still not clear what exactly you wish to achieve. Apart, that is, from a ‘seismic’ shakeup of the civil service and the ‘merry-go-round’ of ministers.
As to the first, the Civil Service is suffering from ‘shaken baby’ syndrome, having been politicised under Mrs Thatcher and then virtually radicalised under Tony Blair - you’ll remember how he used the Privy Council one day after the 1997 General Election result was declared, to give up to three spads executive power over permanent civil servants. Now, when you concentrate the levers of power in that way you have to look carefully at the hands manipulating them. I do hope you don’t plan eye-catching initiatives of the ‘abolish the Lord Chancellor’ type that our British Pol Pot came up with to drive away boredom one weekend in 2003. I’m sure Sir Humphrey can seem maddeningly obstructive sometimes – but maybe there is a need for brakes and steering in even the fastest car?
The revolving-ministers bit I can appreciate. It was fun to see John Nott walk out of Robin Day’s interview in 1982, after the latter had called him ‘a transient, here-today and, if I may say so, gone-tomorrow politician.’
Of course, that may have helped shorten Robin Day’s Newsnight career, just as (imho) Jeremy Paxman was binned for continuing to be too good on the same programme when New Labour got in; never forget where power lies, and don’t speak truth to it too frankly, not to say rudely. But why should ministers give up the best of their lives in relentless work, if not in the hope of further advancement? And isn’t it the role of Cabinet government to set the policy framework for its interconnected ministries, whose continuity and detail work is provided by the Bernards and Humphreys – or do you have your eyes on a sofa-based inner-Cabinet ‘den’?
And what is all this redesigned machinery going to fix? Will it address a political system in which the majority of people directly in the 2016 Referendum, and indirectly but overwhelmingly via the manifestoes of most MPs who were returned in the General Election that followed, instructed Parliament to recover its own authority from the EU, yet saw three and a half years of delay and subversion instead?
Not that it’s over, necessarily. Minutes after Bojo’s landslide was adumbrated by exit poll results on 12 December, BBC’s Naga Munchetty (or was it our own dear Laura K?) was optimistically spinning it as an opportunity for Boris to ignore the troublesome extreme Brexiteers in his party; and I have a sick feeling that she was right. For the Brexit promise is driven more by deadline than results.
A friend told me he’d voted Conservative ‘for the last time’ (and I think the first) just to get it over with – ‘to make it stop,’ as I suggested and he agreed. Now let’s see what happens to the barely-altered Withdrawal Agreement and still-a-surrender-terms of the Political Declaration that Johnson seems set to push through, bish-bash-bosh. As the Americans say, ‘he could care less,’ meaning he couldn’t. After all, he voted for those landmine-salted agreements in October.
I understand the tone of haste in your advert, perhaps better than you. For unless there is radical systemic action – and I don’t mean tinkering with the bureaucratic gearwheels and oilcan – it will be Labour next time, and the time after that.
I wonder whether you know how much the Conservative Party is hated. A Welsh friend recently told me his father had joined the Tory Party late in life, so that it would lose another supporter when he died. Johnson’s delight at the extent of his victory was mingled with justified surprise. Only the weedy incompetence of Corbyn, Softy Walter to Boris’ Dennis the Menace (that would make you Gnasher, I suppose), drove the Northern Reds to break their wall. This government is on appro, and if the betrayal I fear becomes reality the blowback will be savage.
And structural, which will make sense to you as a systems thinker. For decades, the two major parties have colluded to undermine the working class, the Tories because cheap offshoring and low-wage inward migration suits the blue suits, Labour because the more paupers we have the more the Santas in the red suits can lay dingy benefits under the tree while mortgaging the house to pay for them. But just as differential birthrates in Northern Ireland may eventually see the Province join the Republic, the short-sighted greed of English businessmen may be the demographic death-knell for conservatism. Already 3.4 million Britons have never had a job, and there is a limit to how much further education can paper over the unemployment figures. Add to that the threat to white-collar workers of AI and the arguments of the future will be about the distribution of wealth rather than its creation.
Getting out of the EU is only a battle in a much wider theatre of conflict. Unless we work hard and fast to stem the national outflow of money and the decay of skills, uncontrolled globalism will end with us broke, overpopulated and at each other’s throats. You have an Oxbridge Classicist and Oxford Union talker as your boss; your first task is to give him the Odyssean education for which you have argued so long and eloquently.
That corkscrew enough for ya? I can start Monday.