Government aims to seize back the agenda with the spirit of Roosevelt

By Gareth Jones, Newgate Public Affairs

The Prime Minister led today with a major announcement of a £1 billion school rebuilding programme, which is set to cover 50 major school building projects, with a further £560m for repairs to crumbling school buildings. In a clear sign that the government wishes to drive the agenda again as the UK loosens its lockdown restrictions, today’s announcement is part of a series of measures expected this week from the government to deliver its manifesto pledges on investment and “levelling up” the country.

Earlier today, the Prime Minister gave a broadcast interview on the newly launched Times Radio, in which he talked about his proposals for reviving the economy following the fallout from the pandemic. Previewing some of the details he is expected to set out in a speech in Dudley tomorrow, the Prime Minister said the current situation called for a “Rooseveltian moment” of increased public spending to counter what he admitted would be “bumpy times” ahead. He stressed that the government would “double down” on its initial programme of investing in infrastructure, education and technology.

Much of the interview (and today’s reporting) focused on the departure of Cabinet Secretary Mark Sedwill, after it was announced yesterday by Number 10 that he would stand down from his joint roles as head of the civil service and as national security adviser in September. While the Prime Minister denied that he had forced out Sedwill, it has been widely reported that the Cabinet Secretary’s fate had been sealed after tensions emerged as a result of major disagreements over Brexit and Number 10’s desire to implement large-scale reforms to Whitehall. Indeed, Sedwill’s departure has been seen as the start to wider programme to change the civil service, seen as a long-term ambition of the Prime Minister’s chief adviser Dominic Cummings, who apparently told other government special advisers that – in a strange hybrid of Bob Dylan/Travis Bickle quotes – “a hard rain is coming” to personnel at the top of government.

Michael Gove picked up on this theme, albeit in politer terms, in an indepth policy lecture over the weekend, entitled “The privilege of public service”, in which he also cited the former US President Franklin Roosevelt as an example to follow – and argued that the machinery of government needs to be transformed to respond to today’s challenges, to make it less London-centric, more diverse in its recruitment and with greater emphasis on mathematical and scientific skills in policymaking. The lecture is seen by some as a blueprint for how Boris Johnson’s administration will operate, although it remains to be seen if the government is able to live up to the noble ideals outlined in Gove’s speech.

Elsewhere today, the prospect of the UK’s first local lockdown emerged in Leicester, as the City’s mayor revealed that the government had recommended current restrictions are maintained for a further fortnight – meaning that pubs and restaurants in Leicester may stay closed for two more weeks – after a recent spike in cases, with 866 positive cases reported in the two weeks to 23 June.

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