Boris Johnson versus the ‘blob’

LONDON — Welcome to the U.K.’s permanent revolution.

Having won a referendum and an election, Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings have turned their attention to overhauling the machinery of government.

Their plan? To centralize power in No. 10, improve efficiency and reduce the influence of a civil service establishment that Cummings likes to call “the blob.”

Whitehall’s top brass have been put — very publicly — on notice, with a briefing from “senior Tories” to a Sunday newspaper that three heads of department are on a No. 10 “hit list.” The Home Office has been rocked by briefings and counter-briefings about boiling tensions between Home Secretary Priti Patel and her top official Philip Rutnam.

Meanwhile, the ranks of special advisers — who provide media and policy support to ministers — have been purged of those not regarded as sufficiently loyal or useful to No. 10. That brought even the powerful Treasury to heel as Chancellor Sajid Javid opted to quit rather than see his team replaced.

Downing Street’s goal is as much about reforming the machinery of government as it is about ideology.

But while the approach is winning support among the Conservative party’s victorious Brexiteer faction — who have long-regarded the civil service as a bastion of pro-EU thinking — others warn of the danger of having perpetual campaigners at the heart of government: they might prevent people actually governing.

“It’s not normal for three permanent secretaries to be described as being on a hit list on the front of the Sunday Telegraph,” said Alex Thomas, a former senior Whitehall official and now a program director at the Institute for Government think tank.

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