Three tasks for Grant Shapps: Tell Cameron the truth; Rethink electoral strategy; Target Lib Dem MPs
By Tim Montgomerie
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There were two appointments that really mattered in this reshuffle and they were the Chief Whip and the Party Chairman. They were about first steps towards restoring order and hope in a parliamentary party that has been taken over by rebelliousness and pessimism. You can have brilliant Justice, Health or Transport Secretaries but without a certain level of internal party peace it doesn't matter. Paul has already written about the challenges facing Andrew Mitchell. Today let's look at your hopes for the new Party Chairman, Grant Shapps. The findings below are based on a poll of Tory members that we conducted yesterday. Nearly 1,500 votes were received between 8.30 yesterday morning and 8pm yesterday.
First of all, members have high expectations of the new top man at CCHQ. 67% agree that he will be a good Chairman. Just 10% disagree. The remainder of our respondents are still in the jury room, waiting for more evidence.
Truth-telling: The function that members most want the Tory Chairman to perform is to be a truth-teller to Cameron so that he understands what may be going wrong with strategy and party morale. I've certainly had a strong concern that there isn't a great deal of candour within Cameron's circle. The appointment of Sam Gyimah as the PM's new PPS wasn't a hopeful sign. Sam is a talented new MP but he's widely seen as very ambitious and few believe that he's going to be a good party-to-leader transmitter of uncomfortable truths. Will the also ambitious Grant Shapps be willing to go into a room with David Cameron and George Osborne, close the door behind him and say, when necessary, some difficult things about what might be going wrong? We may never know because it is essential that a Chairman is loyal in public and candid in private. The private candour is at least as essential as the public loyalty though.
Rethink of strategy: The second most important function for the new Tory Chairman - according to our poll - is that the new Chairman rethinks the party's whole electoral strategy. That exercise should begin immediately and Grant should use the next six months to consult widely on what might need to change. He should approach a wide range of different pollsters (not just Populus), international campaign experts (including Lynton Crosby and Patrick Muttart) and the best advertising and internet campaigners from the private sector. He should make big recommendations about things that need to change in our party. Fortunately, for the first time in a long time, we have a Chairman who has actually won a seat from Labour rather than inherited his seat. We have a campaigner in charge at CCHQ who knows the importance of machine as well as manifesto and message. Once he has his plan he needs to walk into that private study in Number 10 and fight for big changes.
Ousting Lib Dems: I'm also very interested to see "implementing a policy to take seats off the Liberal Democrats where the Conservatives are in second place" score so highly. Last Monday, in confirming his U-turn on boundary reforms, Nick Clegg made it very clear that he will pursue the Lib Dem self-interest. We must pursue the Conservative self-interest. The next election represents our best chance in a generation of ousting Lib Dem MPs in the South East and South West of England. We should be pouring resources into those target seats and we should be pouring in those resources now. We don't necessarily have to be brutal about the Lib Dem MPs in those seats, so adding to Coalition tensions, but we need a big footprint and we need that big footprint quickly. In terms of early candour one of the Chairman's first tasks should be to convince D&G that the boundary review is dead and we need to get on with selecting candidates in Lib/Con as well as Lib/Lab marginals.
Here's the full list of what members want Grant Shapps to focus on:
- Telling Cameron the truth, in private, about things that may be going wrong with electoral strategy or party morale: 4.19
- Rethinking the whole Tory election strategy so we can win our first parliamentary majority since 1992: 3.91
- Helping to develop a clear Tory message: 3.85
- Being a good representative for the Conservative Party on TV and radio: 3.59
- Implementing a policy to take seats off the Liberal Democrats where the Conservatives are in second place: 3.51
- Reviving Tory membership: 3.44
- Overhauling Conservative HQ so that it uses the best campaigning and media techniques: 3.21
- Ensuring good relations between MPs and the party in the country: 3.09
- Developing a new model of party membership so that we have a bigger and happier 'political army': 2.94
- Attacking Labour: 2.78
- Touring the country, raising morale of local associations: 2.77
- Fundraising: 2.60
- Running successful Conservative Party conferences: 2.01.