When things get tough for government, call in Grant Shapps, the perfect schmoozer

Logo The GuardianThe Guardian
2023-09-04 14:14:17  • 4 mins

Why is every British public service seemingly a shambles? The answer is that no one is in charge. The appointment last week of Grant Shapps to his fifth cabinet job in a year may be taken from the plot of some Ruritanian court comedy. Can it be serious that five great departments of state, including home affairs, transport, energy and now defence, have needed the magic touch of Shapps for a month or two before he passes on?

This may be the price the nation is paying for Boris Johnsons July 2019 coup, when he sacked probably the six ablest members of his cabinet to guard his position. It was a mistake Margaret Thatcher never made.

Power in British politics is about how you run a parliamentary club. Weak leaders hold their positions by constantly reshuffling their teams. They judge loyalties, and balance support between front and backbenches. When they get it wrong they fall. Any consideration of efficient government is a mere bystander in this game.

After a hesitant start in small business, Shapps climbed the greasy pole of politics by deploying club loyalty with skill. When in office he showed what is now crucial in a modern minister: a talent for headline-writing and media plausibility.

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