Nick Timothy served as Joint Downing Street Chief of Staff, alongside Fiona Hill, to former Prime Minister Theresa May, but resigned following mounting pressure in the wake of the general election more than three years ago. In spring 2017, Mrs May called a snap general election less than a year after replacing David Cameron, but the Tories lost its majority and a 20-point lead in the polls, becoming a minority Government dependent on the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) for their majority. Mr Timothy faced immediate calls to be sacked, while Mrs May was also given an ultimatum by Conservative MPs to sack him or face a leadership challenge. He resigned as Joint Chief of Staff to the Prime Minister just hours later.
But now Mr Timothy has warned amid the power struggle engulfing Downing Street, particularly following the departure of Dominic Cummings, Mr Johnson faces a crucial decision with his party.
Writing for The Daily Telegraph, he said: “Do they want to become the party whose MPs are respectable enough to win back invitations to dinner parties in Islington and Notting Hill? Or make themselves the party of provincial normality – dependable enough to champion the values and interests of ordinary working people?
“This choice – between becoming the Respectables or the Dependables – lies at the heart of the struggle we will witness in the coming weeks and months.
“It will determine not only Boris Johnson’s premiership, but the future of the Conservative Party and the shape of British politics for years to come. It will be a ferocious fight.”
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Mr Timothy explained the “Respectables” have dominated proceedings at Downing Street, as they served under a leader in David Cameron who “prioritised fighting climate change, reducing public spending, and keeping Britain inside the European Union”.
He had also won an electoral coalition with their approval and until he suffered defeat in the Brexit referendum, “Cameron had made conservatism acceptable again: prosperous liberals could vote in their economic self-interest reassured that the Tories were led by a man with his own wind turbine”.
But the former Joint Chief of Staff warned: “The referendum killed Cameron’s coalition of voters and led to the usurpation of the posh and privileged by the plain and provincial.
“The elections of 2017 and 2019 saw the departure of leading Respectables, such as George Osborne and Amber Rudd, the establishment of a new coalition of Tory voters, and the arrival in Parliament of dozens of new Dependables.
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“With high-income constituencies like Winchester now marginals, the party holds seats – often with big majorities – in Brexit‑supporting places like Middlesbrough and Walsall.
“Now, with Dominic Cummings gone, the Respectables want their party (as they think of it) back. They say they want to “soften” the Government’s image, and imagine Boris Johnson governing as a reincarnated Cameron with messier hair and better jokes.
“They want to avoid the culture war, accepting instead of resisting extreme identity politics – from transgenderism to theories of structural racism – that divide society and destroy trust and reciprocity.
“And they recommend a new political emphasis, not on jobs or financial security for ordinary families but on climate change and other issues that gnaw at the consciences of the high-consuming and socially self‑segregating rich.”
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Boris Johnson is facing a crucial period in his permiership
Nick Timothy served as Joint Chief of Staff under former Prime Minister Theresa May
But Mr Timothy warned matters are being clouded as the Tories must not only to decide “between the status quo and the preferred agenda of the Respectables”, but two very different futures”.
He said: “For to become the Dependables, to deliver for the party’s new voters, the Government will need to be far bolder than it has been hitherto in delivering for them.
“A year on from giving Boris Johnson his majority, voters in constituencies like Dudley and Workington have little, so far, to show for it.
“Yes, Britain will soon be out of the transition phase as we leave the European Union. And yes, as Covid struck the economy, Rishi Sunak’s business support and furlough schemes have kept companies and families afloat.
“But the much-vaunted points-based immigration system will almost certainly fail to reduce the number of people coming to Britain.
“There is little sign of the new industrial strategy that will bring growth to the regions, no trace of the decentralisation proposals to put power in the hands of local communities, and no confidence that we will see the decisive shift needed to fund the technical education and training programmes the country so badly needs.”
UK Prime Ministers
Mr Timothy said the situation for Mr Johnson over the future of the Tories could become even “tougher” because of the huge impact on public finances from the coronavirus pandemic.
He wrote: “A year ago, it was possible to imagine the Tories borrowing more to fund regional infrastructure spending. It was possible even to imagine them funding the increases in day-to-day spending made necessary by the promise to “level up” the country.
“But now Covid has blown a hole in the public finances, that intent is in doubt.
“It was always the case that the durability of the new coalition of Tory support would be tested not during periods of political peace but when hard choices had to be made.
“And sure enough, ministers and advisers have been arguing for some time about whether Covid’s fiscal impact means they must retreat from the promises they made to their new voters. This would be a terrible mistake.”
In a final warning to Mr Johnson, he concluded: “Even if the Respectables fail to drag the Government all the way back to such a zone, the danger is that they bring about a confused and contradictory halfway house.
“It is not difficult to imagine the Tories telling the country that certain spending on infrastructure and services is unaffordable, for example, while keeping, against the wishes of the Chancellor, the international aid target.
“It is just as easy to imagine ministers making promises to keep a lid on the cost of living and to revive British industry, while pursuing climate change policies that make both family and industrial energy costs unaffordable.
“Does anybody really believe that for the prosperous and liberal voters motivated by issues like international aid, the Conservatives are likely – after Brexit and the rejuvenation of Labour under Sir Keir Starmer – to become the Respectables? No.
“The Tories’ surest route to future success is to become the Dependables. If you do not wish to take my word for it, imagine what Keir Starmer would prefer: a Tory party that holds the old Red Wall is a party he cannot defeat.”