David Blackburn

Downing Street extends a tentacle

Downing Street extends a tentacle
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Following the milk fiasco, No. 10 plans to tighten its control over Cabinet Ministers. The Times (£) has the details. To paraphrase, No.10 holds the egregious Andrew Lansley responsible for not recognising that Anne Milton’s proposals were politically untenable. Cameron has ordered a political review of Cabinet Minsters’ proposed cuts to minimise embarrassments ahead of October’s spending review.

Understandably, Cameron is keen to insulate himself against inevitable negative publicity. But there is a danger that a hands-on Downing Street will become publicly embroiled in Whitehall spats. Vince Cable, Liam Fox and IDS are fighting to protect their budgets from George Osborne’s axe, and their tactics aren’t pretty – Cable current plans fall short of Osborne’s 25 percent cuts minimum, Fox has tried to shift the cost of Trident to the Treasury and IDS has threatened to resign if his reforms are not implemented. Doubtless each will posit increasingly politically untenable suggestions for cuts in the hope of reaching a compromise. Presumably, Cameron would prefer to adjudicate privately on these matters, not publicly.

Yet there must be a public dimension. Sunday’s milk debacle suggests that even ‘Two Brains’ Willetts cannot master everything on top of his universities brief and the Herculean task of baby-sitting Vince Cable. As Coffee House has argued before, there is the political space for a minister for cuts – a minister who is articulate, adept and economically literate. The media is being sounded out about a ministerial return for David Laws; he would be the ideal candidate.