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Cameron needs a Party Chairman to take the fight to the Coalition's enemies

Tim Montgomerie

Who is David Cameron's big hitter in the media?

Who goes out there, day in and day out, to defend every important aspect of the Government's record?

Who, on the Today Programme, on Newsnight and in the pages of The Sun, Mail, Telegraph and Express, defines the Coalition's enemies and then relentlessly attacks them?

Who is the person who will rally the Tory faithful at this coming weekend's Cardiff Spring Forum with a full blooded attack on Labour?

Who will help to turn British politics from a relentless referendum on the Coalition - which it is becoming - into a choice between the government and a Labour opposition which offers no solutions and no apologies for the mess it created?

Under Margaret Thatcher and John Major the answer to this question was the Party Chairman. Cecil Parkinson, Norman Tebbit and Ken Baker were her best known Chairmen. John Major had Chris Patten - most successfully - and later, Norman Fowler and Brian Mawhinney*. They were responsible for party morale, media operations and campaign strategy. They were big figures in the party and they ensured that the party leader was kept above the immediate fray. The Party Chairman is no longer such a big figure in the party and hasn't been for some time. During Cameron's period as Leader of the Opposition key powers were taken away from the Chairmen including running of CCHQ, marginal seats operations and general election co-ordination.

If I had to draw up a CV for the role I'd emphasise the following things:

  • Good media skills, including stamina for days of early starts and late finishes;
  • Good relations with the biggest Tory commentators and centre right newspaper editors;
  • Fluency in economics - the big issue of the day;
  • The confidence of both the Prime Minister and the party's MPs and grassroots;
  • A willingness to lead attacks on Labour and the Coalition's other enemies.
This last point about defining enemies is particularly important. It's much easier to win a political contest if it's presented as a choice rather than an endless probing of the government. Eric Pickles is popular with the Tory grassroots because (a) he's achieving things (the first, frontloaded cuts) and (b) he's defined his enemy - over-paid, wasteful, inefficient councils - and he's fighting to ensure they share the blame. The fascinating battle of Wisconsin (more on the International blog tomorrow) is being won by the fiscally conservative governor because he's taking on the most backward parts of that American state's public sector unions. The nation will rally to the Coalition's side if it sets out some battlelines and the Party Chairman should be the guardian of those battlelines.

So who should the Party Chairman be? Some suggestions below.

SixCandidates * Margaret Thatcher, in particular, had a habit of picking peacetime chairmen immediately after an election (like John Gummer) and war-time chairmen (like those I've mentioned) in the second half of the parliament. I'd argue that - in the uncertainty of coalition government, with our 24/7 hours media culture and given the government's very tough programme - we need a wartime chairman now.


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