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Operation 'Castrate-the-Right' is underway

By Tim Montgomerie
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Last night I reported Rachel Sylvester's claim that "Aides to Cameron want Coalition to continue even if Tories win a majority". I'm getting hot denials of this from good sources today. The general view is that certain Liberal Democrats would be offered baubles by a majority Conservative government including some policy commissions and quangoes. There may even be a small handful of ministerial positions for Orange Bookers. Just enough would be offered to keep the door open to future co-operation with the Liberal Democrats but there would be no second coalition.

Rachel Sylvester is on the money in terms of the Cameroonian attitude to the Right, however. This was the final paragraph of my blog last night:

"Over the bank holiday weekend three senior ministers have told me that senior advisors to Cameron are actively discussing ways of "castrating the Right". The alleged purge of the candidates' list, appointments of many "tame" peers and active briefing against senior right-wing members of the government are early signs of this strategy."

The inner Cameron circle hate the idea of governing with the Tory Right (or as I call it, the Conservative Mainstream). James Kirkup at The Telegraph sums up the Cameroonian view: "Ask yourself, who would David Cameron rather have as his Deputy Prime Minister: Nick Clegg or Liam Fox?"

Team Cameron has decided it has four years until the next election to ensure it has subdued what it sees as the party's "unreconstructed" wing.

The operation to control the party has seven fronts:

  • The Cabinet. There are only three members of the orthodox Right inside the Cabinet; IDS, Fox and Paterson. There is a paranoia about Fox that was reported in the weekend's Mail on Sunday. Inside the Cabinet, key modernisers, notably Maude and Letwin, control the key levers of Whitehall.
  • The inner Downing Street team. This is firmly onside as you can imagine. The über-modernisers' hand was strengthened earlier this year with the appointment of Andrew Cooper as head of strategy. In the latest edition of The Spectator James Forsyth writes about the important role Mr Cooper has played in the u-turn on NHS reform.
  • The House of Commons.  This is the area where the modernisers' operations are focused. One year into the parliament the scale of rebellions is already worrying Number 10. The 2010 intake is as 'Thatcherite' as ConservativeHome polling predicted it would be. John Major warned Cameron to grip the parliamentary party and that produced the ham-fisted attempt to control the 1922 Committee. Team Cameron are now working to build alternative centres of power. A weekly meeting of PPSs and outreach to the newly-formed 'Group of Forty' are early signs of this.
  • The House of Lords. Appointments to the Lords have been notable for how 'safe' they've been. Few think tank chiefs or independent backbenchers have been enobled. It's been John Maples not Ann Widdecombe. It's been George Osborne's friend, Simon Wolfson, not Ruth Lea.
  • Conservative HQ. Cameron installed his long-term friend Andrew Feldman as Party Chairman. Look at the photographs of Cameron in Ibiza and you can see the PM on a pedalo with the man who is now Lord Feldman and controller of the party machine. 
  • Candidates. Because of the control of CCHQ the party has control of the candidates list. It's impossible to know if the Sunday newspaper reports of a "purge of the Right" are accurate but it's certainly true that there'll be no transparent, easy-to-watch A-list again. Orchestration of candidate selection will now be behind-the-scenes.
  • The centre right press. Like the parliamentary party the Big Four right-of-centre newspapers cause Downing Street the most headaches. There are occasional victories (eg over Simon Heffer) but the Express and Mail, in particular, increasingly The Sun, and decreasingly The Telegraph are, in the words of Downing Street, "difficult-to-manage". My guess is they will stay "difficult-to-manage". Where, once, newspapers picked the red team or the blue team, they now stand with their readers. The Sun is the best example of this and has crossed swords with Cameron on Afghanistan, crime and tax, in particular. It was always much more loyal to Thatcher and then Blair.


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