Who is taking all the big, difficult decisions in government at the moment? Not Theresa May, who seems to be caught up in a particularly bad bout of prevarication. Sajid Javid’s announcement today that there will be a review into the use of medicinal cannabis came just 24 hours after his boss said there was a ‘very good reason’ for the current rules being in place. Yesterday May had also tried to block Javid from raising the matter at Cabinet, arguing that it hadn’t been on the agenda.
It’s just one example of Cabinet ministers mounting very public campaigns for a policy change which they then get all the credit for. Jeremy Hunt for instance, campaigned very vocally for more cash for the NHS, which means that even though May did the big announcement herself, the Health Secretary will get the bulk of the political credit.
As I say in tonight’s Evening Blend (our free daily email round-up and analysis of everything going on in Westminster – sign up here), what unites Hunt, Javid and their colleague Michael Gove is that the three men all fancy a shot at Theresa May’s job at the moment. But even if they weren’t ambitious for grander things, they’ve also all worked out that the only way to get things done in this government is to make clear in public that such things will be done, and wait for the Prime Minister to catch up.
May’s former Director of Government Relations Chris Brannigan described the difficulties in reaching decisions in Number 10 when he came on the Week in Westminster. He told me:
‘She likes to see all those facts, she’s very objective, she ensures that she’s informed about everything that she can have before she makes the decision. The frustration that lies within everyone I think is in fact that that decision isn’t made until the very last moment, that’s where so much of it then turns into frustration amongst everyone about what’s perceived as procrastination.’
He added that there is no point in ‘chivvying’ May to make decisions, and then accepted that ‘at the moment it looks as though the event is dictating to her […] there is much more of a demand amongst the party to say this is the point to dominate what’s going on, this is the point to set your mark on it’.
Currently, though, ministers around May are dominating what’s going on when it comes to both domestic issues and Brexit. Tomorrow’s Commons crunch vote on the EU Withdrawal Bill, for instance, has been inflamed partly by the fact that David Davis insisted on changing the wording of the government’s ‘compromise amendment’ at the last minute. So May isn’t benefitting from the dominance of her Cabinet ministers. If there’s one thing she really shouldn’t put off, it’s deciding to assert her authority while she still can. But that will involve her taking decisions on policy, not seeing them taken.