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CCHQ fury at 'briefings against Steve Hilton'

CCHQ are happy with their flying start to 2010. Tory strategists believe they have got the best of the new year coverage. From the very start of New Year's Day their 'Year for Change' adverts were in newspapers and online. David Cameron's speech in Oxfordshire has featured across all news bulletins today. The campaign accelerates on Monday with the launch of the NHS chapter of the Tory manifesto and nearly every Tory MP will be visiting a marginal seat to deliver the party's talking points to local and regional media.

Hilton-Steve There is, however, something close to fury at what are seen as briefings against Steve Hilton, David Cameron's Director of Strategy.  In this morning's Times Francis Elliott alleges that Steve Hilton is blocking the appointment of James O'Shaughnessy (currently Head of the Conservative Research Department) to a top policy job in Downing Street, should the party be elected. Elliott quotes insider disdain for the irregular strategy briefings that Hilton produces. The Mail on Sunday has more on these briefings tomorrow.

The Spectator's James Forsyth appears to confirm The Times story. James blogs that O’Shaughnessy "has been the focus of negative briefing in recent months". He adds that "George Osborne and Hilton have also clashed" on election strategy:

"[Hilton] wants to run a campaign high on vision, presenting Cameron as both a unifying figure and the ‘change we need.’ (Yes, they really are intent on casting Cameron as Britain's Obama - more on that another time). While Osborne thinks that the Tories need to have more of a retail offer, things to sell on the doorstep."

At various times today I've been told by a senior source inside CCHQ that the stories about Hilton and O'Shaughnessy are "entirely crap" and "total tosh". This source has never lied to me. CCHQ think there are jealousies among some MPs and advisers at Steve Hilton's enormous influence. Some noses were also put out of joint by Hilton's return from America and his resumption of a full on role. Whatever the truth of these reports they are an unhelpful distraction from an election campaign that has otherwise got off to a promising start. A search for the source of the briefings is underway.

Tim Montgomerie


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