Having awarded Michael Gove top marks at the end of term, who else has worked hard and done well?
I ought to start with the Head Boy. It is no easy task to lead a coalition. Many of your own team:
- don’t like their coalition partners;
- resent not having a ministerial job and blame the Liberals for it;
- would rather be in opposition and, most difficult,
- don’t understand coalitions only work when there is compromise.
Having said that, I think DC has done well to take his MPs and his Party (two distinct constituencies) with him as well as he has. There are a whole range of conflicting factors to balance and all in the glare of media scrutiny. Normally, a Prime Minister has to reconcile the conflicting pressures of domestic and global politics. DC’s third dimension is the coalition and he can’t rely on Whips to manage this given (mercifully) the lack of experience of coalition politics in this country. Giving sufficient time to managing relationships with Party colleagues and with coalition partners can be a challenge but I think there is no substitute for investment in this activity.
My next candidate is the person who would almost certainly have been Deputy Prime Minister if the Conservatives had won an outright majority and that is William Hague. He has matured enormously from our earlier memories of him whether as a teenager at the 1977 Party Conference or as the leader of the Party in opposition between 1997 and 2001. I think I am not alone in regretting that he peaked too early but he is making a really good Foreign & Commonwealth Secretary and that Yorkshire accent now carries a degree of authority and respect that it was difficult for him to attract in his earlier years.
I think there are two others who deserve mention.
Phillip Hammond was moved from Transport to Defence in 2011 when Liam Fox stood down. A competent and hard worker but with more of the style of a country solicitor than a media-fronting politician, he has risen to the challenge of providing political leadership to our military machine and has done well given the difficult financial position into which he stepped. I think his reflective and under-stated style engenders trust in his messaging.
Iain Duncan Smith has done more to rehabilitate the Conservative Party’s image than any number of references to the “nasty Party” or the pursuit of absurd politically correct dogmas. His quiet and dogged work on the horrendously complicated benefits system and his willingness to speak the truth without fear or favour has done much to place the Party in the spectrum of caring for individuals and for communities. If he is not a familiar figure for a large swathe of the public, it is more a reflection of the impenetrable nature of the subject matter than of his commitment to make things better for people.