The Ministry of All the Talentless

25th July 2019

James Gillray’s Charon’s Boat—or—the Ghosts of “all the Talents” taking their last voyage, 1807 (source: Wikipedia)


“It was very good of God to let Carlyle and Mrs Carlyle marry one another, and so make only two people miserable instead of four.”

– Samuel Butler


Many will have Very Strong Opinions about the new Cabinet, but from the non-partisan perspective of policy, it seems weak.

Given that the current governing party has been in power for nine years, such policy and ministerial inexperience is perhaps remarkable.

In terms of policy and ministerial experience, the new Cabinet seems like one of an incoming party from a spell of opposition.

Some will say that Michael Gove was successful at implementing policy at Education and DEFRA (and her certainly had potential as a Justice secretary, had Brexit not intervened), but he appears not to have been given a departmental job.

And the appointment of Robert Buckland at Justice is a good one, and he has been a good junior minister.

But otherwise?

As someone said on Twitter, perhaps this is not a bad thing.

If there is to be bad or vile public policy, it is better to be in the hands of incompetents rather than competents.

There was once an administration known as the “Ministry of All the Talents” (though it did not last long).

This is the opposite: we now have the Ministry of All the Talentless.


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14 thoughts on “The Ministry of All the Talentless”

  1. Love that quote about the Carlyles
    Had forgotten it was cult science – fiction writer (and general crank) Samuel Butler.

  2. AS one looks at the past utterances of some of the appointees (Yes, Nicky and Jo, I mean you) one’s faith in the Apostolic Succession is strengthened for the reason given by Sydney Smith: “I must believe in the Apostolic Succession, there being no other way of accounting for the descent of the Bishop of Exeter from Judas Iscariot.”

  3. They say Boris Johnson is an optimist but Oscar Wilde said that “The basis of optimism is sheer terror. We think that we are generous because we credit our neighbour with the possession of those virtues that are likely to be a benefit to us. We praise the banker that we may overdraw our account, and find good qualities in the highwayman in the hope that he may spare our pockets.” (The Portrait of Dorian Gray)

    1. I believe that the designers, and the captain, of the Titanic were also optimistic of reaching a destination…

  4. “Political chaos is connected with the decay of language…” George Orwell. “Pluck and nerve” mean no more than “Strong and stable”.

  5. “I don’t know what you mean by ‘glory,’ ” Alice said.
    Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. “Of course you don’t—till I tell you. I meant ‘there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!’ ”
    “But ‘glory’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knock-down argument’,” Alice objected.
    “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”
    “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
    “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”

  6. “In the hands of incompetents”

    Except the absence of talent and experience means less capability to oppose or moderate Dominic Cummings – who is far from incompetent.

    So we have a PM who likes bold action and ignores detail, with a powerful policy advisor and team who are good on both bold plans and on detail – and few people (neither Ministers not Mr Civil Servants) in any position to stop them.

    Cummings famously said the objective of Brexit was to “reboot the system”. This is a cabinet who will let him do just that

    Incidentally, the parallels between Cummings and Milne are striking: smart, driven sociopaths who have huge power in advising (directing?) popular leaders who like big picture but not detail.

    And who both want Leave for its radical transformative power over British society. “Tory Leninist” meet “disaster Socialist”…???

  7. I hope those civil servants are making sure that copies of their advice to ministers are preserved for the “Brexit Inquiry” which must surely follow.

  8. some see this as part of a strategy, entailing exactly what they aren’t able to say for the moment. Others argue that the ERG contains only a small number of people with talent and that therefore if you are largely selecting from within that pool, that is the cabinet you arrive at once the selection process is completed.

    I think this collective are collectively a rod for Johnson’s back, they will push him and prod him and poke him until he does indeed reach a point where, if it is the only remaining option, we do no remain.

    Of course he still has to get that policy approved by Parliament, and as things stand, that seems unlikely, but the Tory party have to do something, they polled just 9% in the European Parliamentary elections and whilst that was to some degree, (if we do leave) a free protest vote with few if any real consequences – voting that way in a GE would result in a Corbyn led Labour government and most Tories are not that stupid.

    So their predicament is not as dire as some make out, but it is dire enough that it could still result in a Labour government led by Corbyn – and in Johnson and many other Tories views, that would be worse than leaving with No deal – so if we have to, we have to.

    1. But back to David Allen Green – unless we revoke the Article 50 procedure, we’ll be out with no deal anyway. Twenty seven countries have more or less had enough of us.

  9. This cabinet is all about getting the UK out of Europe. Once done there will probably be an election and we hope that normal political service can be resumed.

    Who are all these competent politicians milling around waiting to form a government? The EU is becoming an all-consuming political vehicle which increasingly dictates every aspect of UK political and economic life. It is hard to know what ‘competence ‘means under those circumstances.

  10. Good point on Milne and Cummings. Advisors have the ear of the leader and if they play their cards right have the power. From Becket, Wolsey, Thomas Cromwell through to their lesser successors they get their comeuppance eventually but sometimes too late.

  11. I like Martha Gill’s analysis – that this is a single-use Cabinet essentially designed to fail by being blocked by ‘doomsters and gloomsters’ paving the way for an early General Election, won through the tried and test tactic of blaming everyone else.

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