Sayeeda Warsi asks Cameron for mandate to attack Liberal Democrats - while other Cabinet ministers complain about PM's political operation
By Tim Montgomerie
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The extraordinarily well-connected James Forsyth has another great exclusive in today's Mail on Sunday. Details of a special meeting of Conservative Cabinet ministers have been leaked to him. He reveals two interesting things.
One: Sayeeda Warsi wants to be able to hit the Liberal Democrats in the media
The Tory Chairman has been willing to publicly smack the Liberal Democrats before. At the turn of the year she questioned the behaviour of Lib Dem President, Tim Farron, for trying to take the credit for all of the popular things the Coalition has done and blaming the Conservatives for the unpopular things. "It's almost like going to somebody's house," she said, "eating their meal and then slagging it off afterwards, like a bad episode of Come Dine with Me." According to James Forsyth she now wants more of a mandate to do this:
"Sayeeda Warsi, the Tory chairman, asked – with typical Yorkshire bluntness – for a freer rein to attack the Liberal Democrats. She protested that the party’s Coalition partners keep taking shots at them and the Conservatives need to hit back."
We don't know how the PM responded but it is good to hear that Baroness Warsi wants to go into battle. If we are to have any chance at the next election we must pour resources into the Lib Dem-held seats that we have a once-in-a-generation chance of winning back.
The second thing we learn is that Cabinet ministers are increasingly worried about Cameron's political operation. A brave Eric Pickles apparently led the charge:
"Then there was what one of those present described to me as an ‘Eric Pickles moment’. The Local Government Secretary complained there were not enough political people in No 10 for Ministers to talk to. The Prime Minister bristled at this questioning of his Downing Street operation and tried to swat Pickles away by telling him to call the policy unit. Pickles countered that he meant political people, not civil servants – Cameron has handed the running of his policy unit over to the Civil Service. At which point, the Prime Minister snapped back that Pickles could call Ed Llewellyn, Cameron’s chief of staff, ‘any time of day or night’. The Prime Minister, who was beginning to get thoroughly irritated, then complained to the room that ‘there are political people in Downing Street. They work incredibly hard’."
James Forsyth then reports that Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Gove gave Eric Pickles their support. The Education Secretary is becoming increasingly vocal. On Friday night's Newsnight Allegra Stratton noted that Mr Gove had clashed with Ken Clarke over the Justice Secretary's failure to secure expected reforms to the ECHR. The Sunday Telegraph follows up on those reports today.
Number 10 had considered appointing the TaxPayers' Alliance's Matthew Elliott to its operation to improve its campaigning and outreach to the conservative movement. I now understand that that appointment is very unlikely. The Liberal Democrats objected very strongly to the recruitment of the man who masterminded the NO2AV campaign and - not for the first time - they have got their way. A great shame.