His resignation letter skewers Boris Johnson's tanking administration
There’s always one — the workplace comedian who sees it as his role to keep his colleagues on their toes whether they like it or not. In Conservative Campaign Headquarters, that person used to be Oliver Dowden.
I’m not referring to his tenure as Party Chairman. Rather, I mean his earlier stint at CCHQ when, from 2004 to 2007, he was a desk officer in the Conservative Research Department. I was also working there at the time and remember his constant stream of impromptu skits and impersonations. That’s not to say the younger Dowden was the office clown — or, even worse, a David Brent type. No, he was both well-regarded and riotously funny.
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Years later he became an MP and then, in rapid succession, a minister, a cabinet minister and, finally, party chairman. He’s a natural fit for any rallying-the-troops role, but I didn’t see much evidence of his earlier comic genius. Or, at least, not until this morning.
His resignation letter is a masterpiece of bone dry, pitch black humour. At first sight, it appears he’s quitting because of the by-election disasters in Wakefield and Tiverton and Honiton. However, the wording is exquisite:
“We cannot carry on with business as usual. Somebody must take responsibility and I have concluded that, in these circumstances, it would not be right for me to remain in office.”
Who is this “somebody”? Is it the writer of the letter — or the person to whom it is addressed, i.e. the Prime Minister? The phrasing is ambiguous. Note also that Dowden says it would not be right for him to remain “in office” — in other words he’s not just quitting as Party Chairman, but as a member of Boris Johnson’s government.
The final line is the clincher: “I will, as always, remain loyal to the Conservative Party” — any parallel commitment to the current party leader is conspicuous by its absence.
Boris Johnson would have been in trouble even without this resignation. Last night’s losses were on a scale that should terrify Conservative MPs in the North and South alike. Tiverton was especially bad — and establishes a new record for the biggest ever majority to be over-turned in a by-election.
So Dowden is right, the government cannot carry on down its current path. If he is to continue as Prime Minister, Boris Johnson needs a hard reset of his entire administration. But in bringing back Lynton Crosby and his associates, he’s opted for “business as usual” instead.
Crosby and colleagues certainly mean business — they are disciplined, relentless campaigners. However, that is all they are. Their involvement is no substitute for the depth of vision and scale of ambition one should expect from a government with a big majority. Those things can only come from the elected politicians.
Levelling-up the land without proper funding is a thankless task, but some ministers — like Michael Gove — are doing what they can to make a difference. Others though mainly serve as enablers of Johnson’s misrule. If they’ve got any self-respect then Dowden’s resignation should be first of many.