Yesterday's statements won't quell the Lynton Crosby controversy
I wrote last week that Lyton Crosby should first drop his other clients, and then take complete charge of the Conservative campaign machine - as Tim Montgomerie and I have recommended from the outset. The next day, the Daily Telegraph reported senior Conservatives as saying that there is a "working assumption" that this will happen, and that the strategist is “not averse” to working exclusively for the Party in the 15 months before the next general election. Boris Johnson, for whom the Crosby did such effective work, has recommended that the Party kill the fatted calf, push the boat out and do "whatever it takes" - in other words, pay the strategist enough to make it worth his while to put his other clients aside until June 2015.
Yesterday's publication of Crosby's terms of engagement and statement by the Cabinet Secretary can thus be read as part of a holding position. Crosby confimed that he hadn't discussed tobacco with the Prime Minister (as was obvious from the start) and that he hasn't used his position as a campaign adviser improperly (ditto). Sir Jeremy Heywood said that the strategist hasn't influenced policy on alcohol or energy either, and repeated Downing Street’s assurance that he does not meet civil servants. He also published the Party's terms of engagement with Crosby. These bar him from lobbying the Government or claiming privileged access.
The Crosby row is unambiguously a Westminster Village story - unlike, say, the Coulson affair, with its allegations of criminal conduct. For all Labour's efforts to stoke it, it hasn't impacted on voters. However, this may not be the case indefinitely. Until or unless Crosby goes full-time, the story won't go away, and its impact may deepen. It is rather like a graze that, though trivial in itself, is at risk of infection. To recap: the Party needs Crosby. He is a quality operator with conservative convictions - a combination more rare than it might be. His full-time appointment would quell this wearisome rumpus. The current halfway house compromise won't do so.