The Scotland Office at Dover House in Whitehall.
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Exclusive: Senior Labour figures push for government departments to be scrapped

Shadow cabinet members believe the the Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland Offices and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport should go. 

If Labour enters power in 2015, with a binding target to eliminate the current deficit by 2020 and to reduce the national debt as a proportion of GDP, it will need to enact dramatic reform of the state. As policy review head Jon Cruddas noted in his speech on "one nation statecraft" in June, "Labour will inherit a state that in many areas has reached the limit of its capacity to cut without transformational change to the system."

This means devolving power downwards from Whitehall and reorienting services such as the NHS around prevention rather than just cure. It could also mean an even more radical step: abolishing entire government departments. Several shadow cabinet ministers have told me that they are actively pushing the idea as a means of saving money and of enhancing Labour's fiscal credibility. One influential member cited the Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland Offices and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport as examples of those that could be cut entirely, with DEFRA also vulnerable. I'm told that shadow chief secretary to the Treasury Chris Leslie is exploring the proposal as part of Labour's zero-based review of public spending but that there are "interests that need to be appeased". Those who currently shadow the relevant departments may, understandably, be less keen on the idea. 

But with further devolution to Scotland (in the event of a No vote) and Wales regarded as inevitable, many inside and outside of Labour believe the offices should be consolidated into one Office for Devolved Administrations with shadow ministers of states representing the different nations. As one MP pointed out to me, the party currently has a shadow minister for London, in the form of Sadiq Khan, but no one is proposing creating a London Office. 

One of the notable omissions of David Cameron's time in power has been any significant attempt to reform the machinery of government, with no departments merged or scrapped. By taking up this agenda, Labour could blindside the Tories and demonstrate how it would seek to do more with less. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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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.