“NO one disagrees with what the Government is trying to do but what they do worry about, is the capacity of the state to deliver it,” one Tory grandee tells me.
This figure’s concern is that Boris Johnson’s Government is, rightly, keen on infrastructure — seeing new roads and railways and better broadband as key to raising the country’s growth rate — but these projects tend to come in late and over budget in Britain.
The danger for the Tories is that, at the next election in 2024, they may have little more than plans to show for their efforts.
Downing Street is acutely aware of this risk.
It is already thinking about how it can make sure that people can see and feel visible improvements in their daily lives before the next election.
They know that getting those who voted Tory for the first time to stick with them will not be easy.
“If these people sense that we are not delivering for them, they’ll desert us in droves,” warns one key Boris ally.
In an attempt to ensure that the Government does fulfil its pledges, No10 is trying to create greater accountability in Whitehall.
I understand it is planning to implement a “dashboard process” for domestic policy.
This means a named minister and official will be in charge of ensuring the delivery of a policy, with No10 able to constantly check whether it is on track or not.
One policy very much not on track is HS2. The project is already massively over budget, it may well break the £100billion mark soon, and running a decade late.
A row about what to do about it is brewing in the Tory party.
“HS2 is building up to be quite a serious disagreement within the party,” says one leading backbencher.
Birmingham Tories are keen to save the scheme, believing it to be key to the re-election prospects of their West Midlands Mayor Andy Street.
One argument they are deploying is that going ahead with HS2 would make it easier for the Government to scrap the third runway at Heathrow.
They point out that when David Cameron backed the scheme while the Tories were in opposition, it was, in part, as an alternative to Heathrow expansion.
Given that Boris Johnson has said he would lie down in front of the bulldozers before he allowed a third runway to be built, it would be extremely embarrassing for him if the project proceeded.
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But for a Prime Minister, who boasts of his commitment to infrastructure, to scrap two of the biggest transport projects in the country would be politically difficult. This might well be what saves HS2, in some form.
This Government knows what it wants to do.
But the real challenge is actually delivering on this agenda, of ensuring that, when Boris Johnson pulls the levers, something happens.
Starmer can’t put Labour in No10
KEIR STARMER is out in front in the Labour leadership race.
He has four times as many nominations from constituency Labour parties as any other candidate. Right now, this race is his to lose.
If Starmer does win, it will consolidate a change in British politics. He will find it easier to squeeze Liberal Democrat voters in the south than to win back those Leave voters Labour have lost in the Midlands and the North in recent years. Labour’s shift to being a party of urban graduates will continue under him.
The problem for Labour is that this approach simply will not win them enough seats to govern.
In a generation’s time, it may well work. But not now. Starmer’s supporters argue that he comes without Jeremy Corbyn’s baggage and that many of the voters Labour lost at the last election will come back to the party as soon as they are offered a credible leader. This, though, seems an optimistic reading of events.
If Starmer wins, it will mean Labour has picked the one man in a field of four.
One supporter of another candidate claims that the sense Starmer “looks the part” and “you can imagine him as PM” is just because he is a man. “Never underestimate the sexism of the Labour party,” she complains.
Farage’s Brexit watch
NIGEL FARAGE will vote for the withdrawal agreement when it comes before the European Parliament next week.
Farage had previously been a trenchant critic of the deal.
He has described it as “awful”, “95 per cent the same as Mrs May’s deal” and “a Remainer’s Brexit”.
But he’s been convinced by the Government’s statements about how it doesn’t intend to be a rule-taker after Brexit.
For this reason – and because it would look absurd for him to vote against Brexit – he will now back the deal.
Farage plans to leave UK politics on January 31. But he intends to keep a watching brief, saying he is prepared to return to the fray if Boris Johnson’s government pulls back from its current position.
Farage’s experience with the Brexit Party, which went from launch to topping the poll in the European elections in a matter of weeks, has persuaded him that new political parties can have an instant impact when required.
Bercow snub, for now
THE row over a potential peerage for John Bercow is not going to go away.
He is claiming he is entitled to one.
But the Government is keen to stop the former Speaker getting one given how he twisted parliamentary procedure to aid those MPs who were trying to block Boris Johnson on Brexit.
Meanwhile, the former chief clerk of the House of Commons, Lord Lisvane, has made a formal complaint alleging that Bercow bullied staff.
One MP who Bercow appointed to the panel of chairs tells me the most likely outcome to the row is that the House of Lords Appointments Commission does not accept Jeremy Corbyn’s nomination of Bercow.
But rather than rejecting it outright, it will say “not now” and insist that all proceedings relating to Bercow’s alleged bullying are dealt with before a decision is made on whether he can go to the Lords or not.
- James Forsyth is political editor of The Spectator.