It’s time for the PM to take back control

Says Sir Bernard Jenkin MP for Harwich and North Essex in an email dated Sunday 27th September.

Sir Bernard comes to the same conclusion that I did 9 days ago. COVID testing. Dido to step down. Boris to step up

Sir Bernard takes aim at Dominic Cummings and the intensity of his dislike comes jumping off the email

What must be done now is for the Prime Minister to take back control of his government from his publicity-obsessed and unaccountable team of advisers,

He goes on

> One of the lessons of this crisis must be that the paralysing centralisation of power in Whitehall, resulting in a permanent campaign centre based in No 10 and the Cabinet Office, buttressed by an atmosphere of fear and mistrust, is not an optimal way to run a government.

Sir Bernard has a one to one with Boris this Thursday 1st October. I aim to make some suggestions for Sir Bernard. Any comments on what others would say would be most welcome

Copy of email
It’s time for the PM to take back control

It is horribly apparent that the UK infection rate is heading for a second peak, that testing capacity is falling far short of demand, and that the “world beating” track and trace system has simply not been established. In short, we are heading for the worst for the economy - another spike and another lockdown, unless it can be headed off. This is in sharp contrast with many other countries.

Back in May, I pointed out the obvious: that the government was not recruiting nearly enough trackers and tracers, and that decisive government action on testing would be necessary to avoid another economic shutdown we cannot possibly afford.

These issues have been well-understood for months. Unless we can locate the virus and isolate its carriers, the disease will spread. And unless we can test enough people and trace their contacts, we cannot stop continued transmission leading to disastrous consequences. The predicament facing the government is not fundamentally one of policy; it is one of logistics and implementation.

Good leaders trying to use influence for better outcomes must still avoid casting blame, which does nothing for the tens of thousands currently awaiting delayed test results, or the millions living under onerous social restrictions. What must be done now is for the Prime Minister to take back control of his government from his publicity-obsessed and unaccountable team of advisers, who seem to be able to instruct everyone else in the government what they can and cannot say and do. In this, he should draw lessons from, Tony Blair and his handling of the Foot-and-Mouth crisis in 2001.

By the 25th of March 2001, the preventative policy of widespread culling of farm animals had resulted in an enormous and growing backlog of carcasses for disposal. The number awaiting disposal had reached more than 100,000, with almost a further half a million animals awaiting slaughter. In this crisis, like today, the normal machinery of government had been overwhelmed, and decision-making and delivery was riven by incompetence, lack of capacity and bitter internal disputes between scientists, ministers, civil servants and political advisers. In the words of the 2001 Lessons to be Learned Inquiry: “What was really lacking was logistical expertise and, more generally, the leadership and management skills needed to handle a crisis.” Readers will be forgiven for experiencing déjà vu.

Earlier that week, Brigadier Alex Birtwhistle, a local District Commander, had asserted his right to be included in a meeting with the Prime Minister in Carlisle, where Tony Blair was being presented with a ministry plan to clear the backlog of carcasses. After ninety minutes, Blair turned to Birtwhistle, and asked “Will the administrative arrangements hold up?”

The Brigadier replied: “In my opinion, they won’t.”

Clearly disarmed by Birtwhistle’s forthright answer, Blair placed him in charge of animal disposal in the north of England, leaving with the rejoinder: “Just get on with it – the resources and the nation are behind you.” Always at his best in a crisis, this was Blair demonstrating his strengths as a leader: recognising the limits of his own time and resources; giving responsibilities to those whose abilities matched their tasks; and admitting failure by changing course is better than continuing to fail.

Within two weeks, the backlog had peaked: despite more than 600,000 animals being slaughtered in the week of 8th April, the number of bodies awaiting disposal fell by more than ten thousand.

Obviously, the coronavirus is a completely different crisis, and not every lesson from the past can be applied. But it is notable that the one aspect of the government’s response to Covid which was so conspicuously successful was the construction of the Nightingale hospitals all over the country. In the event, they were hardly needed, but the speed of their creation demonstrates that when it comes to urgent logistical challenges in this country, the training, tactical imagination and constant preparedness of the Armed Forces is unparalleled.

I expect that military officials have already attempted to make their way to the Prime Minister, but there are myriad ways for civil servants and advisers in Downing Street to deny access to those they do not want. One of the lessons of this crisis must be that the paralysing centralisation of power in Whitehall, resulting in a permanent campaign centre based in No 10 and the Cabinet Office, buttressed by an atmosphere of fear and mistrust, is not an optimal way to run a government.

The question for the Prime Minister is whether he will allow things to carry on as they are, with under-qualified and under-proficient appointees scrambling in their posts, as he tries to explain it all to the public? So far his premiership cannot have been anything like the kind of tenure he expected. The all-consuming nature and huge duration of this crisis would test even the best-prepared governments, and there are still large wells of public goodwill to draw upon. But without serious, targeted action and competent, organised delivery, we will soon enter the winter looking as if we have learned little from the crisis so far. If the government is to break the back of this crisis, then the Prime Minister must seize the reins of the state – to take back control - and use the fresh capability available to him from the Armed Forces. He will have to confront those who cannot face that they have invested themselves in failing policies. It’s up to him.

The Armed Forces and great military minds of the country have a hugely important role to play, if they are given the go-ahead to do so, but in my opinion ‘UK plc’ also has a lot to offer. For many large British companies, complex logistics are part of their DNA.

Get the right people around the table, take the egos out of the equation and stop trying to micro-manage would be my message.

Give my best to Sir Bernard too!

Amanda

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Many thanks for taking the time to Post @Amanda_Cetin

The failure by the Government to tap into the expertise available within the UK business community to help deal with Covid has been…disappointing to say the least

To “open source” the problem. Instead it would appear that the problem has been used to create revenue opportunities for those with contacts within the Government.

I must admit I was really surprised and encouraged to see the tone and content of Sir Bernards email. Hats off to him for speaking truth to power

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