Emily Carver is a writer and broadcaster.
Amidst the chaos of this week’s Cabinet reshuffle, the Prime Minister made the decision to appoint Esther McVey to the position of Minister without Portfolio, with the unofficial title of ‘minister for common sense’.
Unsurprisingly, the appointment has invited ridicule, including from within the Party – Jacob Rees-Mogg branded it “silly” and “ridiculously tokenistic”.
The move also prompted a number of reasonable questions: why do we need such a role in government? Isn’t it a massive waste of money? Shouldn’t all our representatives already have common sense?
Other less reasonable voices got very irate indeed, including one LBC mid-morning radio host, who went so far as to call McVey a “gammon maypole”. Amusing to some, I suppose.
Of course, it is likely that Rishi Sunak appointed McVey, an experienced, straight-talking northern MP and former Secretary of State, to help reflect the views of a significant contingent of the Party, many of whom have had their noses put out of joint by the reshuffle. It’s not as though the Minister without Portfolio is a new concept, indeed it dates back to 1805 and has been held by the likes of Kenneth Clarke in recent(ish) years.
So is having someone like McVey on board, helping to make sure policy changes pass the common-sense test such a dreadful idea?
Sure, there are question marks over how much influence she will have, which rather depends on how much she is listened to in what is already a rather bloated Cabinet.
But surely the basic idea that we need more common sense in government is a sound one.
I was asked yesterday morning what common sense means to me ahead of an appearance on ITV’s Good Morning Britain.
While I don’t think it really needs defining, in a decision-making policy context, I’d say it’s about saying things how they are, avoiding sugar-coating matters, and not denying reality because it’s inconvenient or because it doesn’t fit your ideology, world view or political agenda.
In essence, common sense is seeing things for what they are, rather than pretending them away.
Take for example, the housing crisis. People can see with their own eyes that consistently high levels of immigration have stoked demand and put upward pressure on rents and house prices. It’s common sense to acknowledge this, as it is to acknowledge the challenges of multiculturalism, even if it is uncomfortable to say or doesn’t fit your ideological belief in a liberal immigration system, for example.
During the pandemic, those with common sense knew borrowing and spending at record rates while locking down large swathes of the economy would likely lead to inflation. Only academics, economists and politicians seemed surprised by that one.
Or policies that affect motorists, like low traffic neighbourhood schemes, ULEZ zones or bans on new petrol and diesel sales. These policies may sound fantastic if your brief is purely to reach Net Zero or reduce air pollution in a specific area. But a common sense check might encourage a second look.
Then the question of ‘woke’ policing, something many in politics scoff at, but that doesn’t stop the fact that people can see with their own eyes that the policing of protests is not always even-handed, and appears to often depend on the cause.
Or when it comes to nanny state policies.
Rishi Sunak used his conference speech last month to announce the new shiny policy of…. banning smoking by incrementally raising the age at which you can buy cigarettes.
Surely, if there was some common sense in the Cabinet, that idea would have been immediately laughed out of the room? What an absurdity it would be have a middle-aged man or woman buying a pack of cigarettes for their friend who happens to have been born a year later.
Politicians may like to avoid truths for the sake of political expediency, or because it doesn’t fit neatly into their own ideology. So, while it remains to be seen what exactly McVey’s role will entail, and it is certainly highly unlikely that it will be able to turn around the Conservatives’ election prospects, government could do with a few more people who are willing to be the little boy in the Emperor’s New Clothes and express what many are thinking but not voicing.
Restoring a little bit of common sense in decision-making might not be such a bad idea.