A busy week in Blackpool prevented me from commenting upon The Telegraph’s List Of The 100 Most Influential People On The Right. The list’s compilation was overseen by Iain Dale and Brian Brivati. They were helped by ten MPs, journalists and commentators. They explain the reasoning behind their choices here.
The list has certainly caused controversy in Blackpool with some people surprised at their high rating and others disappointed at being left off it altogether. It’s certainly succeeded as a journalistic enterprise if success is determined by the attention it has commanded. I pay tribute to Iain for the work he has put into it and I hope he’ll put the comments below in that context.
Iain Dale’s panel gets most of the big judgment calls right and the fact that there is only one religious leader on the list – Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks – is a fair reflection of the failure of Christian leaders, in particular, to engage with politics. A similar list in the USA would include many faith community leaders.
The biggest strategic error was, I think, to exclude journalists and editors from the list. Iain and Mr Brivati explained this decision by saying that it would be “invidious” to rate newspaper editors, proprietors and journalists because they, themselves, are “employees of the Telegraph Group”. This real problem could have been overcome by configuring the judging panel to include commentators from outside The Telegraph. A list that doesn’t include Paul Dacre and Murdoch MacLennan isn’t really a list of Britain’s most influential right-wingers.
Lady Thatcher is at number four but John Major doesn’t get into the top 100. Odd. Is Mr Major really less influential than the Chairman of the Conservative Women’s Organisation, Lady Hodgson (number 75 on the list) or Christine Constable, friend of Iain and Deputy Leader of the English Democrats (number 98)? Major's devastating demolition of Brown’s Iraq trip earlier this week proved that he is still a force to be reckoned with.
I was pleased and surprised to be ranked at 23 but it was a very flattering position. Apparently I’m six places more important than my former boss Iain Duncan Smith. I cannot agree with that. IDS has put the whole issue of social justice at the heart of the Tory programme. If he sticks at this agenda he’ll be still more influential in the years to come. With the Centre for Social Justice he could build a infrastructural understanding of social problems that will be a huge asset to public life. As I look back on my own political life I’m much more proud of my role in helping him along this path than I’m of creating conservativehome.
Steve Hilton definitely deserves his place at number five – six places above Andy Coulson. He has been Iain Duncan Smith’s great ally in putting the heart back into Conservatism. His fingerprints are all over David Cameron’s first eighteen months.
I’m surprised at the non-appearance of Kate Fall and George Eustice. Kate is Deputy to Cameron’s Chief of Staff Ed Llewellyn (ranked 14). She has known David Cameron for a long time and her Deputy title understates her importance to him. She is a very candid aide, is an early identifier of unhappy colleagues and performs vital gatekeeping roles for the Conservative leader. George Eustice should also have appeared on the list. After 98% of Tories had deserted Blackpool he was dining last night with Nick Robinson and Tom Bradby at Blackpool’s Imperial Hotel. He remains a key member of Team Cameron.
Two other behind-the-scenes names I would have liked to see appear… Nick Wood, press adviser to Hague and IDS when they led the party, handles the media for an influential number of Tory pressure groups, shadow cabinet ministers and MPs. Few understand the press as well as Nick. And, if you’re looking for a real below-the-radar influence, what about Christina Dykes? Christina, now active in helping build a new generation of Conservative leaders in local government, began the process of diversifying candidate selection and did so before it became so fashionable.
One postscript: I cannot agree that Lord Ashcroft makes “no attempt to influence policy” as the thumbnail profile attached to his number three rating suggests. His Smell The Coffee report was highly political and MPs have repeatedly complained to me about the polling presentations that he has made to MPs or have been made on his behalf. They felt that the polling - at least as publicly presented - did not forsee the weaknesses of Project Cameron – weaknesses that were corrected, in significant part, in Blackpool this week.