Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
8 February 2018updated 28 Jun 2021 4:39am

Nick Timothy seems supremely unbothered by his record of public failure. Has he even noticed?

If I could work out how to bottle his self-regard, I’d make a fortune.

By Jonn Elledge

Something that, frankly, baffles me about Nick Timothy: why is he still here?

To put it more baldly: how is it that he’s not so crippled by the knowledge of his own failure that he finds it difficult to face the mirror of a morning? Let alone to unselfconsciously advise the government on what it should do to recover from a mess he in large part created?

It’s not that I don’t understand the desire to speak when one should probably shut up. As one might expect given that I write my opinions down and publish them for a living, I am not without ego. I am a – possibly the – fan of the sound of my own voice.

Nonetheless: had I have been encouraged to leave the New Statesman after screwing up so badly that I had endangered its continued existence, I imagine I’d think twice before writing a series of self-satisfied columns explaining what it really should be doing. Even if I did so, I think I’d probably die of embarrassment at around the time some genius saw fit to publish my great thoughts under the trolltastic heading, “Ideas to win”.

Nick Timothy, though, seems weirdly unscathed by the disasters of the last year, despite being personally implicated in many of them. As Theresa May’s co-chief of staff, he was the author of the Citizens of Nowhere speech which, whatever its intent, clearly harmed the prime minister’s standing among liberal and ethnic minority voters. The following year, Timothy was one of the architects of the early election which saw the prime minister take just six weeks to plummet from Blair’s 1997 heights of popularity to Blair’s 2007 levels of loathing.

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. A handy, three-minute glance at the week ahead in companies, markets, regulation and investment, landing in your inbox every Monday morning. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.

He was the main proponent, too, of Erdington Conservativism; the strategy, named for the working class Midlands suburb near to which he grew up, which was meant to guarantee Tory hegemony but instead somehow managed to lose it a dozen seats. (Birmingham Erdington, delightfully, saw a three point swing towards Labour.) In each of these cases, Nick Timothy has made a call, which events soon demonstrated to be wrong. 

Content from our partners
How do we secure the hybrid office?
How materials innovation can help achieve net zero and level-up the UK
Fantastic mental well-being strategies and where to find them

I’m not saying the man should never work again: we all need to eat, and people who’ve been at the political coal-face often make the most interesting political columnists. Damian McBride, for example, is always worth reading.

But where’s the soul-searching? Where’s the evidence Timothy has given serious consideration to what he did wrong? Or any consideration, come to that? Over the last year, he has failed in the most public and humiliating way, and did more to raise the prospect the next Prime Minister would be Jeremy Corbyn than Momentum has ever done. Yet from the way Timothy conducts himself – in the Telegraph, in the Sun, on Twitter – there’s no evidence he’s been agonising over any of this. Has he even noticed?

There is something weirdly compelling about this level of misplaced self-confidence. One of my favourite public figures to read up on when I feel my blood pressure is getting too low is Matt Ridley (or, to give him his full title, the 5th Viscount Ridley). A science writer by trade, this did not stop him from taking a gig as chair of Northern Rock, which, under his careful eye, then managed to become the first British bank in a century-and-a-half to play host to a bank run.

This record has not been enough to make him wonder if he’s quite as clever as he thinks, and still he’s using his Times column and his hereditary peerage to sound off at regular intervals about Brexit (he’s pro) and climate change (he’s sceptical). If I could work out how to bottle this self-regard, I’d make a fortune.

At any rate: neither Timothy’s latest gaffe, nor his complete inability to correct for it, are in any way surprising. To correct a misstep, one needs to be able to acknowledge it. Of this, as of so much else, there is no evidence Nick Timothy is capable.