Strategy – whether Grand or otherwise – tends to be a pretty esoteric and unsexy subject. That being the case, I have been surprised over the last couple of weeks by the amount of press coverage debating whether there is a strategic vacuum/capture within the heart of the UK Government. Whether angled as an issue around advisors, the control of Sir Humphrey’s over the No.10 policy-making apparatus, or a question of leadership style, there does seem to be a genuine interest across the political spectrum on the capability and coherence of the Government’s strategic direction. The PASC report should be a helpful and measured addition to this debate.
Here are a few articles from the past week on the issue of strategic capability (selected for their diverse viewpoints, not because I think any of them get the diagnosis right. In fact, I think that much of the recent hand-wringing in the press is over-playing the current situation while under-playing the extent to which the difficulties the centre faces in steering the ship of stat are both increasingly common within many governments and a function of growing international long-term trends):
There is a split in the Cameron circle. The divide is between those who think that the problems of the past few weeks have been a blip, one that will end when Boris Johnson wins in London, and those — including some of the Prime Minister’s closest friends — who fear the problems are symptoms of a disease that could cripple the government. At stake in this debate is the future strategic direction, and the potential success, of the Cameron project.
Nearly two years into the job, David Cameron is discovering that you have to push hard to get anything done in government. In Malaysia last week he confessed: “When I was a student in the 1980s, a student of economics and politics, I once had to write an essay on ‘How true to life is Yes Minister ‘. I think I wrote in the essay that it wasn’t that true to life. I can tell you, as prime minister, it is true to life.”
Governments do not become accident-prone by accident. It is one of the few iron laws of British politics and is as applicable now as it was when New Labour stumbled into chaos and when it happened to previous governments. The law was invented, I believe, by the great political columnist Peter Jenkins, when the Labour government in the 1970s went from one mini-crisis to the next. There were, and always are, deep-seated reasons for a government’s problems when it is thrown off course by the eruption of apparently disparate events.
Conor Ryan: No 10′s woes: who should carry the can?
Public Finance 17 April 2012 | Conor Ryan
Advising the public to panic-buy petrol is just one way that Francis Maude has contributed to No 10′s recent problems. The other is getting rid of so many special advisers
Conservative MPs are increasingly critical of David Cameron and his Downing Street operation, and Nick Clegg admitted in an interview with The Independent on Sunday that the Government is “in a rut”. The Tories have slipped in the opinion polls. So why has the Government suddenly run into trouble in the past four weeks?