Conservative Leadership After Matt Hancock – Conservative Article
The word incompetent gets throw around a lot. It makes a great headline; it allows for easy criticism and dismissal without really having to quantify anything or offer any cogent argument. One person, among many, who received this a lot was Matt Hancock. I think anyone would struggle to wholly defend Matt Hancock’s handling of the pandemic. He has seemed, at times, a step behind. He has come across as, to put it kindly, unsuited to the level of leadership his role demanded.
It would, however, be harsh to not also take into consideration his job has been incredibly hard. Perhaps one of the hardest in government. The pandemic was unprecedented and its consequences reached far beyond simple public health. Matt Hancock was landed this thankless task just a year and a half after entering his first senior government job.
This is not to say that his job was a good one. Hancock continuously failed to coherently communicate, appear cogent, on top of the pandemic’s most pressing issues. He even failed to come across as a man with the demeanour and political capital of the office he held.
His departure from his job was inevitable. The government, whilst acknowledging the need for continuity in important positions during this time, could never have justifiably defended his performance long term. As he leaves, he takes with him, at least partially, some of this government’s negative press. His departure gives them an opportunity to re-establish pre-pandemic policy goals with a somewhat cleaner slate.
Hancock’s dramatic exit comes only a few months after another senior – and equally theatrical – exit of Dominic Cummings. Whilst I don’t think anyone can doubt his talents, his close association with the falsified Brexit claims and his poor ability at making up excuses, meant his presence at the heart of government left a bad taste for a lot of people. Cummings’ inability to go quietly has largely ruined his future career. Without doubt, no one in Cabinet will want to employ him after his spectacular tantrum, the only real victim of which was his own dignity.
Hancock’s fall from grace, however, orchestrated has been favourably timed and creates with it opportunities not only for the Conservative Party but for his replacement, Sajid Javid, to rekindle a promising political career.
Sajid Javid’s departure in early 2020 was surprising, to say the least. He was very much a man on the rise and had demonstrated great potential. What he brings to the role is experience, a statesmanlike disposition, and the work ethic of a man who is getting his second chance knows he needs to hold on to it tightly.
As we leave the pandemic behind us, or at least as much as we can, the government will transition towards both economic rebuild and its pre-pandemic manifesto promises. Leaving those most closely associated with the pandemic and the Referendum in the past is, therefore, essential in moving forward long-term.
Boris Johnson must take the opportunities in front of him for the sake of his party rather than himself. The next election is far enough away that voters will most likely look to pandemic recovery as an indicator of success rather than their performance during the carnage of the pandemic itself.
As a party, the Conservatives need to consider who is the Cabinet of the future, and who needs to be put out to pasture. Johnson needs to be realistic. Since taking office he’s had an undeniably tough ride as prime minister and, to be frank, it shows. He lacks the energy to which he was previously associated, has visibly aged since his serious hospitalisation and has a young family.
Given that the government is keen to let this parliament run to its full term, he will have to be introspective and question whether he is the most suitable candidate to lead the Conservatives into the next election. Ultimately, does he believe he can physically and mentally do 8 further years as Prime Minister?
The return of Sajid Javid adds to the collection of senior officials with strong political capital and will have emerged from the pandemic with limited scarring. Certainly, the next leadership election will be one that at least has more than one person that could be thought of as deserving of victory.
My estimation is that Boris Johnson will not lead us into the next election. His role should be the “Covid PM”. He should lead us out of the pandemic and through the recovery process but hand over the reins when the time is right. Leaving it to his successor to return to “normal” governing, thereby leaving the last two years well behind us.
As to who this leader will be, no one can really say. But the addition of Sajid Javid means it will be a tough fight. As long as the party can survive a close leadership election completely united, we will enter the next election with by far the best candidate and an excellent shot at 5 more years at Conservative government.
Written by Guest Conservative Writer, Alex McQuitty
Point of Information
Personality over Policy – A Labour response
In the recent history of UK politics, there has been a clear shift towards the idea of spatial leadership during election campaigns. In the past 20 years, increased emphasis on personality over politics can be seen in Tony Blair’s charm; David Cameron’s Etonian decorum; Jeremy Corbyn’s Glastonbury appearances; and Johnson’s loveable buffoon act.
Generally speaking, elections are decided by who the public likes more. Not by the intricacies of their plans for education or their vision for the new green economy. This presents a problem for whoever follows Boris Johnson into No. 10 because for all his failings he is certainly a character that sticks in the mind.
For clarity, on election day when we all head to the polling stations, we are presented with a list of parties and local candidates. But the media run-up to any election is always dominated by the leaders of the two main parties, and that daunting question, ‘Who will be the next PM?’
I agree with my colleague that the chances of Johnson persevering in the role of PM are low, and it will then most likely be Sajid Javid, Rishi Sunak or perhaps Liz Truss who take a punt at leading the Conservatives. These three candidates have had varying levels of media proficiency in the last few years, but of them, I would argue Rishi Sunak is the individual most endeared to the public. Although his Eat Out to Help Out scheme was – in terms of Covid numbers – a bit of a disaster, it was generally well-received by the public. Moreover, his place as the Chancellor of the Exchequer affords him more media opportunities to get his face out there.
In relation to my own party, I can only hope that Keir Starmer creates an entirely new personality. Or is replaced by Andy Burnham or Dawn Butler. If these changes are not made then I fear that the Conservatives will get another government in power. The evidence is there, the UK public back the left-leaning policies proposed by the Labour Party but without an exciting young captain the ship will inevitably end up sinking.
Written by Senior Labour Writer, Henry McKeever
A Post-Johnson-Leadership Crisis Could be Looming – A Liberal Response
Matt Hancock’s resignation from leadership was long overdue. True, as Alex mentions, his job was unenviable and undoubtedly tough. However, the lack of diligence and duty that Hancock showed throughout could have been fixed with some introspection on his part. Further, a stronger condemnation from the Labour party could have saved many lives and significant embarrassment. It is telling of the state of the opposition that it could not mobilize the public against Hancock’s actions sooner.
Sajid Javid is a capable replacement, but not ideal. As Kieran has written in a previous article, Nadhim Zahawi would have been a much more apt Health Minister due to his relevant prior experiences. Further, Javid’s promotion personifies the careerism which permeates government politics. This individualistic attitude towards politics results in the British public losing its faith in our democracy. Politics has to be about people first, careers second – not the other way around.
Alex and Henry importantly touch on Johnson’s resignation as well. Despite the ineptitude of the government, partly responsible for its survival is the universal desire for order in the midst of chaos. Much like the War, the pandemic has given our ruling party the unspoken mandate to hold onto power until the crisis is resolved. Once this mandate expires though, Johnson will face the consequences for his often poor handling of said crisis. His resignation would not only be practically wise, but morally necessary.
But another crisis will follow. I do not share Alex’s faith that the Conservatives can keep a united front after Johnson resigns. Even if the division is temporary, there will no doubt be a split incoming. Agreeing with Henry, the most plausible candidate for PM is definitely Rishi. However, we should not underemphasize his role in exacerbating our death toll.
It depends, ultimately, on the careerist Conservatives. Will they play it smart and continue to stick together until times are more stable? Or will they fight each other mercilessly for the top role? If the latter happens, the evidence against each potential individual could rip the Conservative party and its leadership apart for a few years. Let’s hope that Labour can regroup in the meantime.
Written by Chief Liberal Writer, Frank Allen
I am entering the third year of a BA in History and Ancient History at the University of Exeter. I have a fascination with the past otherwise and you would hope so, otherwise I may have chosen the wrong degree. But, writing for POI gives me the opportunity to talk politics which is something I simply can’t avoid.
Politics was a completely taboo subject for me as a young boy. Having lived almost all my life in Brunei and Qatar – two very strict, theocratic autocracies – I was cautious to keep my opinions well-guarded. The smallest negative remark about either country’s governance, for example, would’ve meant deportation for my family and I. Any non-approved political activity, no matter how naïve, had to be kept a secret. It was best not to question at all.