Coulson and Hilton join forces as Tory machine gears up for final lap
Team Cameron's move into the Millbank CCHQ for the General Election campaign is now complete. The 'war room' has become a crowded place with staffers bunched up closely together. It's warm. It's noisy. Cameron, himself, retreats to Parliament when he needs to finish a big speech or statement.
Steve Hilton, Director of Strategy, and Andy Coulson, Director of Communications, are now sharing an office at the heart of operations. The two men have taken over the third floor's last available meeting room and now sit opposite each other. This uniting of the party's yin and yang is the beginning of a big effort to ensure better communication of the party's strategy.
Part of the explanation for the party's difficult few weeks has been confusion as to the Tory approach to the economy (the election's number one issue according to Stephan Shakespeare). Newspapers have concluded that the party is less hawkish on the deficit and this has fed Labour's narrative that the election is about strong Brown v wobbly Cameron. Over coming weeks there will be a concerted campaign to ensure there is no doubt, in the minds of journalists as well as voters, that the Conservatives are the party of deficit reduction while Labour are the party that got us into this mess. Cameron will be presented as the straight-talker to the nation. Brown as the leader who borrowed too much, who has wasted taxpayers' money and who failed to regulate the banks.
The party is also ready to move on to the offensive on Labour's dependence on the union movement. Labour will be presented as in the pockets of public sector union interests; every bit as stuck in the past as the mining and car industry unions of the 1970s. Labour is, after all, sixty times more dependent on union cash than CCHQ is dependent on donations from a certain Tory peer. See today's Sun.
Coulson and Hilton report directly to George Osborne who is now in full charge of the campaign. The Shadow Chancellor's Mais lecture (praised here by Patience Wheatcroft) will probably be his last big statement of economic policy before polling day. He'll be out on the campaign trail and is eager to debate with his opposite numbers, but his main role from now on is ensuring the Tory machine is firing on all cylinders. Ken Clarke will fill the gap by being more of the public face for Conservative economic policy. Stephen Gilbert, Director of field campaigning, will work closely with Osborne in ensuring the right micro messages get to target seat clusters and the right direct mail is targeted on key voter groups.