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Westminster Insiders on the 'Mixed' Post-Election Mood in Parliament

"There are still a lot of big questions about what comes next."

by Marie Le Conte
20 December 2019, 2:21pm

Welcome to the last Commons Confessions of the year! Unclear how you could have missed it, but Boris Johnson won the election with a stonking majority last week, and Parliament came back a few days ago (before leaving again for Christmas). What have the people of Westminster made of this past week? We chatted to some journalists, politicians, advisers and civil servants to find out – anonymously, obviously.

THE POST-ELECTION MOOD

“There's definitely been a change of mood. The last three years in parliament were pretty extraordinary for political journalists – every MP mattered and every vote was on a knife-edge. Now everyone is trying to get used to this new world where the government actually has power.”

“This might be putting it strongly, but I was almost relieved when the exit poll suggested a Boris majority. Not because I'm pro-Boris or anti-Corbyn, but the uncertainty and lack of any coherent direction over the last few years has been exhausting for civil servants. At least now we have a clear direction, even if the ride will be bumpy.”

“The mood was mixed. Absolute hopping rage from moderates in the Labour Party at the way Jeremy Corbyn had conducted himself, alongside a bunch of Tories who managed to keep their smugness under varying degrees of control. There was a bunch of post-match analysis going on with MPs comparing campaign notes; one group discussed their most racist constituent.”

“It's amazing how we've gone back to normal so quickly. The new MPs seem exhausted and a bit stressed, but for those of us who are returning it's quite relaxed. It's also quite relaxing thinking about majority Government, it doesn't matter what our individual MP does anymore!”

THE NEW MPS

“The newbies were wandering around with helpfully-labeled green and white lanyards being excessively polite to one another. It won’t last.”

“With such a big new intake, the divide between old and new MPs will be quite fun to watch. The new ones have already been described as 'sharp-elbowed' by an experienced MP…”

THE LABOUR PARTY

“It's grim. Labour corridors are stacked up with bin bags from cleared out offices, or where ex-members haven't returned. There aren't even many new Labour MPs for exiting staff to appeal to for jobs. The mood isn't helped by an unrepentant Jeremy who's aggressive and tin-eared; his response to the light-hearted Queen’s speech debates on Thursday went down like a cup of cold sick.”

“The Parliamentary Labour Party has promptly and predictably abandoned the palisades and I know of four prominent frontbench MPs for which the primary thought on leadership is ‘anything but continuity’. Even frontbenchers who will likely lose their jobs are chomping at the bit to get started on the next Labour project.”

WHAT WE'VE LEARNT THIS WEEK

“From the civil service perspective, we’ve obviously seen lost of briefings and discussions about the plans for Whitehall reforms. They want to position themselves as revolutionaries, smashing up the system, but I think they will actually work with the system more than it appears now. A lot of civil servants agree with Dom Cummings’ observations about what needs to change in Whitehall – they’re not sure about some of his methods. So I think we will see some battles, but also a lot of change that will be supported by senior officials.”

“On the policy side, we’re not yet seeing the emergence of the liberal Johnson some people were talking about last week, but I still think it wouldn’t be impossible for him to be on the right for Brexit and law and order, but more centrist on spending and public services.”

“What's been made very clear this week is that the pace of this government is going to increase, not slow, and it seems there'll be a take no prisoners approach to getting this ambitious agenda through Parliament. Not that there are any prisoners left to take…”

WHAT MAY HAPPEN NEXT

“There’s a sense of relief to have a government with a working majority – the deadlock over Brexit and fact that so many other policies have stalled was a real frustration for lots of officials. There’s also some hope that after February’s expected reshuffle, we might get a bit more stability with ministers and actually start to make progress on different policy areas.”

“We always hear officials say they want government to get better at prioritising – obviously at the start of his premiership we expect Johnson to be sharing the big ambitions, the ten-year plan. The challenge for officials is that they want to show they are on board with the new plans, but they also need to make it clear when something is unrealistic, and why. One of the big problems with Universal Credit is that officials were too keen to accept unrealistic deadlines. So next few months will be crucial, I think – whether officials can get that balance right, and whether ministers will listen.”

“2020 is going to be very different – and yet some things will feel the same. Boris Johnson will rule the roost in Parliament. Forget big parliamentary showdowns – they’re over. He will be able to get his Brexit deal and accompanying legislation through. But the negotiations with Brussels could be tough. There will be hairy moments in the next few months and probably a few big rows. Brexit isn’t going away.”

“There are still a lot of big questions about what comes next. We’ve seen that Boris is keen to try and move onto all sorts of domestic policy – and away from the B-word – but he’s trying to do an awful lot on top of Brexit…”

@youngvulgarian

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