Boris Johnson’s ‘fixer’ leaves cabinet

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Boris Johnson’s ‘fixer’ leaves cabinet

Oliver Dowden is a consummate Conservative insider and fixer that it may feel almost paradoxical that he has become the first Boris Johnson-eraJohnson-era minister to step above the political fence and resign as a result of the government's recent woes.

In his letter to Johnson, who said he was stepping down as Tory party co-chair, Dowden insisted that poor local election results, capped by a disastrous double byelection loss on Thursday, had made his position untenable.

We can't carry on with business as usual. Somebody must take responsibility, he wrote, and while he insists that was him, others will see an implicit finger of blame pointing at the prime minister.

That ends Dowden's time in the cabinet, at least for now. If Johnson is deposed something an operator as canny as Dowden, he will be handily placed for a return if he opts for what many Tory colleagues will see as the honourable choice.

Few understand Tory internal politics better than Dowden, whose time in the party long predates his election in 2015 as MP for Hertsmere in Hertfordshire, an ultra-safe seat he had been chosen to fight, seeing off competition from Rishi Sunak among others.

Dowden, who was educated at a state school in Watford and then Cambridge, set aside a law degree to teach briefly in Japan before, aside from a stint in PR, working largely for the Conservative party, first arriving when Michael Howard was the leader.

He was David Cameron's deputy chief of staff when he was selected as a potential MP, and he has worked closely on party and government matters with Theresa May and, as co-chair of the party since September last year, Johnson.

Dowden, known as Olive, the legacy of an early typographical error, took less than three years in Parliament to get his first junior ministerial job. He was considered unflappable and hard-working and rose through the Cabinet Office and Treasury before becoming culture secretary under Johnson in 2020.

There, Dowden lied about his superficial resemblance to an easily shocked and slightly liberal Church of England vicar to become an enthusiastic culture warrior, leading a war on woke against museums and other institutions that questioned the legacy of slavery or tried to remove statues.

He extended into the more partisan role of party chair, with a Twitter feed full of government talking points that are currently the campaign to persuade voters that rail strikes are the fault of the Labour party.

Dowden was a valued minister for Johnson because of the combination of hard work, loyalty and ideological fervour. If he is an opponent of the prime minister and his resignation letter did not express his loyalty, he could become an equally formidable one.