By Paul Goodman
If Damian Green looks paler by this time next year, the reason will be a lack of sunlight. He is vanishing into the committee and meeting rooms of Whitehall. The Government has published its list of Cabinet committees and sub-committees and implementation task forces. There are 15 of the former. Green sits on 14 of them (he has eschewed the National Security Council’s Nuclear Deterrence and Security sub-committee) and chairs four. This latter group include two of the four Brexit-related committees: namely, the sub-committees on international trade and European affairs. Philip Hammond chairs the sub-committee on the Economy and Industrial Strategy but, when it comes to Brexit, neither Liam Fox nor David Davis have the same privilege on sub-committees that cover their patches. Green is in charge.
Furthermore, he has almost a clean sweep of the Implementation Task Forces. Seven of these were announced last October, covering Childcare, Digital Infrastructure and Inclusion, Earn or Learn, Housing, Immigration, Tackling Extremism in Communities, and Tackling Modern Slavery and People Trafficking. This structure has now been slimmed down to six: Housing, Immigration, Tackling Modern Slavery and People Trafficking, and Digital (as it is now called). Tackling Extremism in Communities has been scrapped. Earn and Learn has become Employment and Skills. Green sits on all of these bar Tackling Modern Slavery, and chairs all he sits on. So Sajid Javid no longer chairs the Housing Implementation Task Force and May no longer chairs (nor even sits) on the Immigration one. She has left it entirely in the hands of the man who served under her as Immigration Minister when she was Home Secretary.
At first glance, it looks as though Green has seized control of the country’s radio stations and is playing martial music. But the explanation is more prosaic. This is what comes of making the Minister in charge of the Cabinet Office, whose task is to “support the Prime Minister and ensure the effective running of government”, First Secretary of State. Green’s predecessor was Ben Gummer, who wasn’t even a full Cabinet Minister. But he now outranks every other Cabinet Minister, including the Chancellor of the Exchequer – who, in any event, doesn’t seek to dominate Westminster and Whitehall in the way that his own predecessor, George Osborne, did. So Green is both Osborne and Oliver Letwin, who dominated the Cabinet committee-and-sub-committee structure under David Cameron, rolled into one – in a manner of speaking.
Green does not have the title “Deputy Prime Minister”. (The last was Nick Clegg.) But he is a more central First Secretary of State than William Hague, whose responsibilites were largely confined to the Foreign Office, and will have more levers to pull, at least formally, than Osborne, the last First Secretary of State. The former Chancellor had clear leadership ambitions. If Green harbours any, he isn’t letting on: he is May’s closest colleague, having known her since their university days at Oxford, and one of the very few that she trusts. The former Remainer – a deeply committed one – is now a loyal Brexiteer, backing up the Prime Minister’s line in the crucial Brexit sub-committee that deals with the negotiation. Before the election, the most powerful man in government wasn’t an MP at all: Nick Timothy. Now it is Green – at least if power is to be measured by formal control.