Daily catch-up: Who is the third most powerful person in the Conservative Government?

Another look at the hidden wiring of the UK Government – the new structures set up to deliver Conservative promises

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The Independent Online

1. I wrote about the remarkable rise of Oliver Letwin in The Independent on Sunday yesterday, because he is the key to last week’s changes to Cabinet committees, which are designed to deliver David Cameron’s pledges.

To those of us who are interested in the machinery of government, such as Jon Davis and me at King’s College, London, who see ourselves as the disciples of Peter Hennessy, the new Implementation Taskforces are as important as any Cabinet reshuffle.

I say the changes confirm Letwin as the third most powerful person in the Government after the Prime Minister and the Chancellor.

Letwin is at the centre of a new structure intended to force the pace of change on the Prime Minister’s policy priorities. Or to deal with the related problem, as one official puts it, of “doing Prime Minister’s Questions and the question is, ‘You said there’d be 40,000 of these and how many are there now?’ And you know the answer is something like, ‘One’, but the Prime Minister needs to be on top of it”.

So it is worth looking in more detail at what those priorities are. I didn’t have space in the newspaper to list them all, but the 10 Implementation Taskforces aim to:

• build new houses;

• integrate health and social care;

• ensure young people are in employment or education;

• reduce immigration;

• deliver 30 hours’ free childcare for working parents;

• tackle extremism;

• help troubled families;

• promote exports;

• provide universal broadband and improve mobile phone coverage; and

• manage returners from Syria.

Some of these are more deliverable than others. I am sceptical in particular about the immigration target, which Cameron complains that only he and Theresa May took seriously over the past five years. I don’t think anyone else thinks that was the reason it was missed.

And there may still be the question of whether Letwin is the right person to solve the deep problems of public service delivery. Perhaps his successes have been claimed by others, or have been little noticed because they were the avoiding of worse disasters, but he does not have any great achievements to his name. He was, for example, entrusted with the negotiations with Ed Miliband over the Leveson proposals for a press regulator, which resulted in a notable fudge.

But there is no doubt that he is popular with the ministers and officials with whom he works. They say, affectionately, that references to popular culture in meetings pass him by, as he is more likely to have been reading Ovid for entertainment the night before than watching TV. And there ought to be more of a place for likeable people at the top of politics.

2. My Top 10 in The New Review, the Independent on Sunday magazine, was Phrases That Don’t Mean What People Think. Although, as Paddy Briggs pointed out, and in the light of my recent debate with Oliver Kamm, it should be called Top 10 Phrases That Don’t Mean What They Did Originally, if we are to be guided by usage.

3. And finally, thanks to Mat for this:

“I’ve got a book on how to say ‘the business’ in a Mexican accent.”

Is it any good?

“It’s the bee’s knees.”

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