Much has been made of the appalling spectacle of the cabinet participating in a Q and A chant with Boris Johnson. The video circulating can be taken to be a homage to those of the Trump cabinet, featuring supplicants offering praise.
Conventionally, UK cabinet members are supposed to be the equals to the PM’s ‘first among equals’. Heavyweight minds negotiating policy solutions and probing their costs and benefits ceaselessly.
But the video is not meant to be a mini-documentary shedding light on the workings of government. This video is a marketing tool. What is being marketed is the idea of a Prime Minister with cheerful junior soldiers promising to Get Stuff Done. Those who were seduced by ‘Get Brexit Done’ are calculated to have voted for ‘Boris’ and not be particularly interested in heavyweight Philosopher King technocrats that he might have delegated stuff to. They might know of very few other politicians, nor feel they need to, and be only dimly aware of the different government departments and what they are charged with doing.
You don’t have to be an actual supplicant to grasp that this is a sound marketing ploy for Johnson and you should agree to it. (You might even command a price by agreeing to it). The fact of the video does not actually shed light on the true workings of cabinet or government in general. The Johnson campaigns and government have frequently involved saying one thing and doing others. We can presume that they might be fine with the incantation for cameras, but what actually happens away from the cameras will be a function of the same power arithmetic that has always dictated cabinet.
Johnson’s election victory and the size of his majority naturally then raise the possibility that perhaps even away from the cameras, cabinet are really supplicants nowadays. Johnson’s preparedness to stand by Cummings over the issue of who gets to pick the Chancellor’s advisors adds weight to that. But other realities have not chnaged: the impossibility of organising such a large dimension project as ‘Government’ entirely from the centre, and the necessity to delegate and have firewalls between No 10 and reality. And there are new complications, including the tension between the leftward shift that the levelling up spending prefigures, and the traditional Tory right who won’t want the taxation that goes with it.