If you hadn’t heard of Nick Timothy or Fiona Hill before this weekend, you are not alone.
The Prime Minister’s co-chiefs of staff (the government oversees a sluggish economy but it knows how to create jobs in all the right places) have resigned their posts in the wake of Theresa May’s calamitous election result. The pair are said to be the gurus behind Tory policies such as the ‘dementia tax’ and the ace idea of replacing the Prime Minister with a short-circuiting robot who responded to questions by droning ‘strong and stable’ for 60 seconds while smiling painfully and scoping the nearest exit. The voters passed their judgement on the Timothy/Hill approach to politics last Thursday and now Mrs May finds herself without a majority and desperately trying to cobble together a supply and confidence agreement with the Democratic Unionist Party.
Let’s review where we stand: The government has lost its majority, an opposition led by a Marxist crank has been emboldened, we are a week away from the start of Brexit negotiations, and the best hope for a functioning government is a hardline Ulster party that has overseen the collapse of the province’s own devolved government. The UK is mired in a political crisis of historic proportions, one brought about by people who weren’t elected by anyone. Then again, this is how we do politics in this country.
They say Westminster is a bubble but you don’t know the half of it. The parliamentary estate, despite its impressive sprawl, is almost designed to minimise contact with that ominous creature, A Member of the Public. MPs have their own private entrance at Westminster Tube station that takes them into the office without having to join the bustle of the street. There is a tunnel connecting Portcullis House, where MPs’ offices are located, to the Palace of Westminster, allowing parliamentarians to cross Bridge Street to the Commons unmolested by the hoi polloi. Much of their day is spent shuttling back and forth along this corridor for debates and divisions. When members get peckish or thirsty, they have their own dining rooms and bars that are off-limits to the general public (though not to our taxes, which subsidise the cut-price meals and booze). Every now and then, they’ll make a break for it and sprint across College Green to do a quick hit on Sky News or into 4 Millbank, home of the regional TV stations, where they can address their constituents from a safe distance.
If you think MPs are cocooned, it’s so much worse for ministers, who surround themselves with special advisers and ‘gatekeepers’ tasked with shutting out unhelpful information and dissenting voices. Special advisers (or ‘Spads’) are a class all of their own. They mostly attended the same universities, did the same degrees, interned at the same lobbying firms, and are all friends on LinkedIn. And when they leave their jobs as ministerial bag carriers, they will pick up a new gig lobbying the very government they were working for a few days before.
This is the way it works in all the parties. Don’t let any of them tell you they are unblemished. Mrs May’s set-up was hardly an outlier. At least she can sack her most trusted advisers; Nicola Sturgeon’s right hand man is her husband, SNP chief executive Peter Murrell. He is largely responsible for a campaign that lost the SNP 21 seats on Thursday night, including those of former First Minister Alex Salmond and SNP deputy leader Angus Robertson. In other circumstances, Mr Murrell would be circling help wanted ads in this morning’s newspaper but that might make for awkward exchanges over the breakfast table at Bute House.
A governing class that has been running the show for decades, that thought it had all the answers and didn’t have to worry about an insurgency of the Trots or the Eurosceptics — this is the feckless establishment of bounders, smooth-talkers, and well-connected incompetents that has dropped us into a morass and made Britain the laughing stock of the world. They knew how to run the country better than the rest of us. They could push ahead with their own political agenda and social preferences without consulting the people they were governing unelected. They were the bright young things living out their West Wing fantasies and chuckling down the pub about who was CJ and who was Toby.
They have been found out. Too late, of course; the nation will be living with the consequences of this mess for years to come. But let this be a warning to us not to let these overpaid, unaccountable chancers have such a hold over our country in the future.
Because Britain doesn’t need another election or a new government. We need a new politics. One that understands the world outside Westminster because it’s actually lived and worked there. That means clearing out the apparatchiks who treat politics as a game of points scored and scores settled. The number of special advisers should be radically reduced and ministers made to rely on our army of Sir Humphreys, who have years of experience running government departments and know the difference between a bold policy and unworkable waffle. Beyond the wonk class, we need more politicians who have started businesses and created jobs and know what it’s like dealing with red tape and punitive, confiscatory taxes. And if we want to smash the closed shop of time-serving seat warmers who dominate Parliament, we should introduce term limits for MPs.
Theresa May will be rueing the day she allowed Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill to act as virtual joint Prime Ministers of the UK. By giving free rein to a duo that no one outside Westminster had voted for or even heard of, the Tory leader has wrecked her premiership, weakened her party, and put Jeremy Corbyn in an unnervingly strong position for the next election, which could come sooner rather than later. It will take time to remedy the situation we are now in but we ought to make sure we never end up here again.
Who knew being attacked by rampaging sheep could be a vote-getter? Willie Rennie’s farmyard fracas brought the Lib Dems media attention that they somehow turned into votes. Alistair Carmichael boosted his majority in Orkney and Shetland while the party picked up Edinburgh West. Nationalist Paul Monaghan, who once claimed ‘influence exerted’ over the 2014 referendum had ‘cast a shadow over the result’, also went down to the Lib Dems — good news for residents of Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross but a devastating blow for the tinfoil hat industry.
The party’s UK-wide results were disappointing. Leader Tim Farron is a decent sort but he failed to cut through and given the rise in the youth vote, it may be time to pass the torch to the next generation. Former MP Jo Swinson took East Dunbartonshire back from the SNP on election night. A businesswoman who backs the Union, she was a government minister before she turned 35. Sounds like a winner to me.
With Theresa May’s days numbered, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson is rumoured to be eyeing up her job. The Tories have already foisted a dud on the country, they cannot possibly land us with another bumbler. Once they’re done having their breakdown, could the Conservatives get back to running the country — and keeping Jeremy Corbyn out of Downing Street?
Originally published in the Scottish Daily Mail. Contact Stephen at firstname.lastname@example.org.