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George Osborne appoints Neil O'Brien as new adviser and opens door to a more blue collar, northern conservatism

By Tim Montgomerie
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Another sign this morning that Team Cameron is succeeding in recruiting the calibre of people that it needs to maximise its effectiveness. Less than a fortnight ago we learnt that Lynton Crosby would be joining the political side of the Cameron operation on a consultancy basis from the new year. In last Saturday's Times the Tory Chairman Grant Shapps confirmed that Crosby would be overseeing the general election campaign.

O'BRIEN NEIL CONINTELLNews is just breaking that Neil O'Brien, director of Policy Exchange, will be joining George Osborne's office as a Special Adviser*. This is a big loss to PX but a big boost to Number 11. O'Brien has been wooed for some time by the Tories and they've finally got their man. I've always thought highly of Neil and included him in my 2020 Cabinet as "Minister for Cabinet Office and Policy Development".

As well as an all round big brain O'Brien brings at least four key advantages to the Downing Street team...
  1. Understanding of conservative movement: Before joining PX he ran Open Europe. He understands Euroscepticism and the Eurosceptic movement. When he was at OE he held regular breakfast meetings for leading voices of the centre right. He could help the party reach out to key thinkers and columnists within the conservative movement - helping spread understanding of what Cameron and Osborne are aiming to achieve.
  2. Blue collar focus: At Policy Exchange he launched a second phase of modernisation - I've called it blue collar modernisation. Danny Finkelstein, Chairman of PX, has called it cold weather modernisation. It's a modernisation focused upon the challenge of reaching the low income Britons who feel that social mobility is stalling and that the system is stacked against them and in favour of vested interests.
  3. Northern focus: A northerner by birth he has conducted extensive polling into the northern challenge facing all of the parties. Last night's by-election results were a further reminder - if one was needed - that the party is on the road to having the same pariah status in parts of northern England that it already has in Scotland.
  4. Appreciation of social roots of economic challenges: A final big advantage that I hope Neil will bring to what I suspect will be a big input to the next Tory manifesto is his understanding that inequalities of social capital may be diving economic inequality. His recent blog on cultural inequality was a must-read.

George Osborne's week begin with the coup of getting Mark Carney as Mervyn King's successor. Neil O'Brien's appointment won't matter so much to the nation but it's big news for the Conservative Party. I congratulate Neil and wish him much luck and success.

* Rupert Harrison continues as the Chancellor's SpAd with principal responsibility for economic policy.


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