To have been in a top rank outside politics does not necessarily presage getting to the top rank within it – or at least doing well once one has got there. But it’s not at all a bad start. For example, Andy Street might well not have made it to the West Midlands mayoralty had he not run John Lewis, and he has brought commercial instincts and customer focus to his dealings with government and voters. In an age in which prominent businessmen tend to avoid politics (they don’t want to take the pay cut; they’re not willing to put up with the present restrictions on outside earnings; they don’t want social media on their families’ backs), Street is a rareity. And although high-ranking business people don’t always understand politics, and sometimes make a mess of it, it needs more of them, not fewer.
Street’s modern style and accessible manner has little in common with the fruity, orotund, Rumpolean persona of Geoffrey Cox, who stepped out of 1955 yesterday to address the Conservative conference. You may have thought his speech over the top. (The Attorney-General himself will know perfectly well that it was over the top.) But in an age when few politicians seem to be able to make a proper conference speech at all, Cox’s connection with much of his audience stood out. As did the self-confidence which many present-day politicians seem to lack.
But Cox and Street have it in common that both have excelled outside politics – Street in business, Cox at law: the latter is a proper QC. As ConservativeHome pointed out at the time, his appointment as Attorney-General was the most significant element of the summer’s mini-shuffle, in the wake of the resignations of David Davis and Boris Johnson. “The Government may well need a heavyweight lawyer during the next few months who can go head to head with the likes of Martin Howe, and not be carried off in an ambulance,” we said. Any deal that Theresa May makes will be made in words with legal effect, and to interpret words with legal effect one needs lawyers. The Prime Minister nabbed one of the best she could from the backbenches. He will thus be losing an emperor’s ransom in abandoned legal fees.
So this year, Cox will no longer top a list of richest MPs in terms of income. But office can be a marvellous consoler. We have no idea what he is like as an administrator, but he can more than hold his own in the Commons, and is unlikely to get flustered on TV. The Cox-for-Prime Minister stuff is to be expected after a barnstorming smash, and can be duly ignored. Nor, sadly, do we think he is likely to be up for a CoxCast. But wethinks we see in our mind the Attorney-General as an eagle mewing his mighty youth, kindling his undazzled eyes at the full midday beam, and flapping off, in the course of time, in the general direction of the Ministry of Justice.