There have been glowing tributes to David Cameron, somewhat at odds with his record of blunders and misjudgements while in office. We ask less of Prime Ministers than the press often supposes. Premiers don’t ‘run the country’ in any meaningful sense – they can’t, for example, sensibly say that next year there’ll be more food or warmer housing. Their principal job is to appoint a government and speak for it. As a PR man Cameron was well able to do the second, but he fell rather short with on management. He left people in jobs far too long; egregious mistakes (health service reform, the Borders Agency, penal reform, school governance, Universal Credit and two omnishambles budgets ) were introduced clumsily with too little consultation, defended for far too long, and the perpetrators encouraged to go on; issues were ignored, and recurrent problems were left to fester before being dealt with in panic. Government too often looked like a pastiche of The Thick of It. Theresa May’s record in government has been distinctly patchy (see e.g. this broadside from the Spectator) – and on some occasions, shockingly bad – but in the wreckage of the last government she has been seized on as the only thing still afloat that might stop us going under.
The new Cabinet is more noteworthy for its personalities than its administrative track record or sense of purpose. I suppose it’s conceivable that the new team will make it through to November without scandals, resignations or replacements, but it will be a surprise if they do. The direction of policy is much less clear. It’s all very well to say that the new priorities will be to forge new international agreements, but we don’t actually have the power to do that – not just because these things depend on negotiation with third parties, but because the European Union (for anyone who hasn’t noticed) has exclusive competence on trade, and will continue to have exclusive competence until the UK actually ceases to be a member. So we’re starting out with a government that has no definable international agenda apart from giving notice to the EU. Add to that the gaping void in domestic policy that was revealed in the last Queen’s Speech. Politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum; there is some reason to be apprehensive about how that void is likely to be filled.