The tame TaxPayers' Alliance

When will the TPA go after the Conservatives' use of public patronage for party political purposes?

It's good to learn from Dan Hodges that the Yes to AV campaign is even worse than the TPA Team B, aka the No to AV, effort is. But here's a quick question for the original TaxPayer's Alliance, specifically its director, Matthew Sinclair.

You'll know what the grumbling has always been about the TPA. That you were far too tame in opposition. That, for all you moaned in private about Osborne's shadow treasury team being intellectually timid yet rigidly controlling, you, in the last parliament, did far too often pull your punches in response to demands from Matt Hancock and co to keep quiet.

Meaner people than me did, at the time, wonder whether TPA alumni -- having fallen for the idea that David Cameron would actually win an election against Gordon Brown -- were rather too dazzled by the prospect of SPADships (and other plums of patronage). And that, as a result, not everyone in the TPA was fully committed to being quite as offensive as your name might have had unrepentant Thatcherites hope you'd be. That is, to my mind, completely unfair. So what that we now have a government where a Conservative Chancellor bashes bankers and boasts about how much protection money he's squeezing out of them? These pre-emptive, long-term, trouble-storing-up rhetorical surrenders on behalf of the party leadership are hardly your fault. You've been fighting the good fight, even if it's not always been as awkward and unhelpful a fight as it might have been on every occasion. But here's the thing -- that quick question -- are you following the jobs?

You're very good at tracking waste in local government, in highlighting the absurd, uncompetitive salaries chief executives and other functionaries award themselves in the shadows, but are you being as vigilant at the national level? For as we both know, the consequence of Cameron having managed to find one thing he won't flip-flop on -- the number of those precious SPADships being reduced, with even fewer on offer to Tory flacks now that the Liberals have to get their cut too -- is that ways round this are being found. Blatantly political appointments are being made to supposedly neutral civil service jobs. Ministerial private offices are littered with CCHQ lags, and other think tank hangers-on, who haven't been able to get SPADed up, and as yet you have let this slip you by.

So there it is: just let me know that your FoI requests are, even now, working their way through the system to see just who has been given public patronage for party political purposes. It's an easy enough thing to do: we both know who the limited cast of characters involved are. So do be sure to email me when you have this latest piece of TPA research ready to go. It'll make for fun reading when you name names. (Oh, and natch, I'm taking it as read that the non-party TPA opposes ministers bunging apolitical taxpayer-funded political positions to political stooges, even when those stooges are chums).

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Theresa May is paying the price for mismanaging Boris Johnson

The Foreign Secretary's bruised ego may end up destroying Theresa May. 

And to think that Theresa May scheduled her big speech for this Friday to make sure that Conservative party conference wouldn’t be dominated by the matter of Brexit. Now, thanks to Boris Johnson, it won’t just be her conference, but Labour’s, which is overshadowed by Brexit in general and Tory in-fighting in particular. (One imagines that the Labour leadership will find a way to cope somehow.)

May is paying the price for mismanaging Johnson during her period of political hegemony after she became leader. After he was betrayed by Michael Gove and lacking any particular faction in the parliamentary party, she brought him back from the brink of political death by making him Foreign Secretary, but also used her strength and his weakness to shrink his empire.

The Foreign Office had its responsibility for negotiating Brexit hived off to the newly-created Department for Exiting the European Union (Dexeu) and for navigating post-Brexit trade deals to the Department of International Trade. Johnson was given control of one of the great offices of state, but with no responsibility at all for the greatest foreign policy challenge since the Second World War.

Adding to his discomfort, the new Foreign Secretary was regularly the subject of jokes from the Prime Minister and cabinet colleagues. May likened him to a dog that had to be put down. Philip Hammond quipped about him during his joke-fuelled 2017 Budget. All of which gave Johnson’s allies the impression that Johnson-hunting was a licensed sport as far as Downing Street was concerned. He was then shut out of the election campaign and has continued to be a marginalised figure even as the disappointing election result forced May to involve the wider cabinet in policymaking.

His sense of exclusion from the discussions around May’s Florence speech only added to his sense of isolation. May forgot that if you aren’t going to kill, don’t wound: now, thanks to her lost majority, she can’t afford to put any of the Brexiteers out in the cold, and Johnson is once again where he wants to be: centre-stage. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.