Alan Milburn and Andrew Adonis have several things in common. Their first name begins with “A”, for a start. More importantly, both were New Labour ministers who took advisory roles after the Conservatives took power. Milburn chaired the Commission on Social Mobility, whereas Adonis was an advisor for the National Infrastructure Commission. Both now have a third thing in common: Milburn and Adonis resigned from their roles because Brexit is causing the government to be dysfunctional.
The Commission on Social Mobility's final report, published in November, makes for sobering reading. It shows there are great inequalities in Britain, particularly between Greater London and the rest of the country. In his resignation letter from last month, Milburn could not be clearer: the focus on delivering Brexit means that the government can do nothing to improve the lives of Britain's most disadvantaged:
Individual ministers such as the secretary of state for education have shown a deep commitment to the issue. But it has become obvious that the government as a whole is unable to commit the same level of support. It is understandably focused on Brexit and does not seem to have the necessary bandwidth to ensure that the rhetoric of healing social division is matched with the reality. I do not doubt your personal belief in social justice, but I see little evidence of that being translated into meaningful action.
Andrew Adonis is a more strident Remainer than Milburn: he has said he wants to stop Brexit altogether. His resignation was also brought on by his vehement opposition to the bailout of Virgin Trains and Stagecoach, which we covered in a Twitter thread yesterday. In his interview with The Observer, he paints a disturbing but plausible picture of government paralysis:
The senior civil service is now totally drained physically and psychologically by attempting to deliver the impossible with Brexit, such that it is no longer able to deliver the ordinary business of government...
Good government has essentially broken down in the face of Brexit...Independent advice is being dismissed because, remember, experts were supposedly part of the problem.
There is very low morale in Whitehall because almost no civil servants agree with the policy of the government...I do not know a single senior civil servant who thinks that Brexit is the right policy, and those that are responsible for negotiating it are in a desperate and constant argument with the government over the need to minimise the damage done by the prime minister’s hard-Brexit stance.
“It is an open secret that no one will go and work in David Davis’s department [DexEU], and Liam Fox is regarded as a semi-lunatic. The only departments that have retained their institutional integrity during this crisis are the Foreign Office and the Treasury, but they have been sidelined in the Brexit negotiations which is a huge mistake because that is where most of the brains and ability in Whitehall is located.
And so it goes on.
It's utter nonsense, of course. Liam Fox is not merely a “semi” lunatic.
On Sunday's podcast we are going to discuss the New Years Resolutions each party should have, and Steve has argued that the Conservatives need to stop making everything about Brexit. That's going to be hard when the administration is, as Adonis argued, defined by the issue. It also does not help that a key thinker who might have been able to establish a new agenda for the Conservatives, Nick Timothy, tried to do so in the middle of an election campaign and lost the Tories their majority by doing so.
Many on the left criticised Milburn and Adonis for working with a Conservative government, but if you don't have sensible Labour politicians helping frame government policy, you get stupid Conservative ones instead. The Twitter row par excellance this week has been the backlash against Toby Young's appointment to the Office for Students. A veritable cottage industry has formed around screenshotting Young's old tweets. You can read about the worst of them in this New Statesman piece, whilst Richard Seymour provides some good links to stories about Young's free school.
Young has no discernable qualifications beyond launching a free school with a dubious record. Many defend him by saying he genuinely wants to improve educational standards, which seems a little disingenous given his support for "progressive eugenics". It also assumes that you can be appointed to important things just by good intentions along. Just because I want to improve politics does not mean I should be appointed to the Cabinet. The Conservatives need to improve their standing amongst younger and more educated voters. Why then would Jo “The Other” Johnson appoint Toby Young to this role? I can only assume it's the continuation of the culture war against universities which this Fizz talked about only last week. You can't say that we didn't warn you.
Old, New, Borrowed and Blue
Old: The first episode we recorded last year, on what New Years Resolutions the parties should have in 2017, can be found below: