U-turns? We were in the teeth of a gale, says PM
But calmer seas lie ahead, vows Boris as he seeks to reassure public
‘Giving him more power will end in trouble’
BORIS Johnson appealed for public understanding over the rash of embarrassing U-turns yesterday – as Dominic Cummings established a new ‘mission control’ designed to stamp them out.
In an on-camera statement ahead of the first Cabinet meeting since the summer, the Prime Minister said the Government had been ‘sailing into the teeth of a gale’ as it grappled with the pandemic.
‘I am no great nautical expert but sometimes it is necessary to tack here and there in response to the facts as they change, in response to the wind’s change,’ he said. ‘But we have been going steadily in the direction, in the course we set out and we have not been blown off that course.’
Mr Johnson acknowledged there would be ‘some turbulence ahead’ as the Government tries to deal with the continuing threat from coronavirus and a ‘difficult’ economic situation.
But he insisted that ‘ calmer days, brighter days and calmer seas’ lay ahead.
His comments came as a new ‘mission control’ centre devised by Mr Cummings came into operation. The hub is designed to fuse policy development with delivery in a bid to improve the Government’s effectiveness, remove blockages in the system and head off problems before they arise.
One Whitehall source said: ‘With all the U-turns, things are clearly not working as well as we want them to be, but hopefully you will now see that start to change.’
The new unit will be based in Michael Gove’s Cabinet Office at 70 Whitehall, rather than no 10. Mr Cummings will sit at the centre of an open plan ‘collaboration hub’ along with a string of key aides, including no 10 policy chief Munira Mirza, former Vote leave data guru Ben Warner and members of the Prime Minister’s private office.
Senior officials and political aides will be grouped in themed modules around them, focusing on issues such as schools, the economy and infrastructure. Mr Cummings, a data obsessive, hopes to have real-time information on coronavirus and other government priorities beamed on to the walls.
The PM has so far resisted pressure from Mr Cummings to move out of his cosy no 10 ‘den’. But insiders yesterday said that so many of his key aides are now working at the new centre that he is likely to have to spend at least part of his time working from there.
The creation of the unit has underlined fears amid some Tory MPs that Mr Cummings and his mentor Mr Gove have taken control of Mr Johnson’s administration. One senior Tory said: ‘Boris just hands everything over to Cummings, whose plans since coming into government have been a disaster. He’s not even a Conservative and I have no idea why the PM is trusting him with so much.
‘Giving him more power will only end in more trouble.’
Government sources dismissed suggestions that the move represented a shift of power out of no 10, pointing out that the Cabinet Office is part of the same complex of buildings at the heart of Whitehall. a connecting door, which has previously been shut, will be removed to allow for the free flow of officials and ministers between no 10 and the Cabinet Office.
‘It’s in 70 Whitehall because they have got the space, but it’s effectively the same building,’ a source said. ‘no 10 is a rabbit warren of corridors and offices. This move will allow people to be brought together in a way that should improve the effectiveness of government.’
The move came as no 10 confirmed the appointment of Prince
William’s former aide Simon Case as the new Cabinet Secretary.
Mr Case will succeed Sir Mark Sedwill, who announced his departure in June after losing a power struggle with Mr Cummings.
Government sources confirmed that the PM had phoned Prince William to ask permission to poach his private secretary, who had been on secondment in no 10 to help out with coronavirus. an ally of the prince said he was ‘taking one for the team’, adding: ‘How can anyone not be supportive given the scale of the challenge coming?’
Meanwhile, a week after denying rumours he would soon be leaving
Downing Street. Mr Johnson has joined social network linkedIn.
announcing his new profile on the professional networking site – widely used to find jobs – the Prime Minister said he was using the platform to ‘connect more directly’ with British businesses. The profile lists the PM’s previous jobs in politics such as Foreign Secretary and Mayor of london, but does not include his work as a journalist.
last week the PM dismissed as ‘absolute nonsense’ claims from Mr Cummings’ father-in-law that he was planning to stand down early next year.