Nik Darlington 9.55am
So the backroom shake-up in Downing Street is causing a mini stir this morning.
Leaving aside the prominent headline for a moment, our biggest congratulations go to the TRG’s vice-president, Jane Ellison, who has been appointed by the Prime Minister to a new policy board of MPs. Jane is joined by backbench colleagues Jesse Norman, George Eustice, Margot James and Jake Berry, as well as former ministers Nick Gibb and Peter Lilley.
The biggest news of the morning, however, is that the Mayor of London’s younger brother shall be heading up the Number 10 Policy Unit. In a way it is a shame it is taking the gloss off the GDP growth figures in light of the BBC’s crowing it would be a triple-dip recession - but perhaps the timing tells us Downing Street was at least half expecting bad news.
That is by the by now. What does it mean?
First and most importantly, I expect the Lords & Commons cricket club shall have to make do without one of its better cricketers. Belligerent with the bat and a bowler with real pace and bounce, Jo Johnson was limbering up for a promising summer, bordering on unplayable at times in pre-season nets (though fastidiously did he protect his polished new cherry) and even electing to don a lid when batting. The club shall be even more reliant on Peter Bone’s left-arm tweakers.
Secondly, it marks an about-turn for David Cameron, who till now has employed a civil servant in the role. It demonstrates a beefing up of Number 10’s political clout and provides a direct link between policymaking and the parliamentary party.
Yet how cosy and effective (to all tastes) that link shall be, only time will tell. Jo Johnson has done a stint as a party whip, so backbenchers have had plenty of experience of his enforcing Government policy, less so working with them to formulate policy (which we presume is the main point behind the switch-around).
Nonetheless, the third significant point is that Jo Johnson is easily one of the more cerebral of the 2010 intake and with his hinterland (handful of degrees, financier, journalist, edited the Lex column etc), he will bring an intellectual thrust to the role. Again, this might grate with backbenchers who yearn for a more bread and circuses brand of politics, or a harking back to the black and white certainties of Thatcherism (neglecting, of course, to recall how reliant Mrs Thatcher’s policies, particularly economic, were on intellectuals).
He is also relatively pro-European, at least significantly more so than the vast majority of MPs. This may be something to do with his FT background (though media organisations tend to be self-selecting) or simply that he has actually spent some years studying and working on the continent. Some might make more of this than it is worth, given that David Cameron’s EU policy (in many ways markedly more Eurosceptic than Mrs Thatcher) is largely decided. Nonetheless, Jo Johnson is no John Redwood (the latter, for instance, is far cannier a bowler).
Then there’s the brouhaha about his older brother, which many in the media will be fixated on between now and the next election (and perhaps beyond). The sensible will do best to ignore it.
All in all, it is an intriguing development. Jo Johnson is a brilliant pick for the policy unit. As a go-between for Number 10 and the parliamentary party, time shall tell, the onus perhaps resting more with backbenchers than the man in question.
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