Conservative Diary


16 Oct 2009 08:59:32

Tories plan big shake up of Whitehall

Last week George Osborne pledged to cut Whitehall by a third. Relations between the civil service machine and the Conservative Party may be further strained by news in this morning's Times that ministers rather than permanent secretaries will chair the boards that oversee the operations within government departments.

MAUDE FRANCIS Francis Maude MP, head of the Tories' Implementation Team, is overseeing the likely changes:

"Mr Maude is planning to fill these boards with non-executive members from the private sector and, for the first time, give them powers to recommend firing permanent secretaries. The most senior civil servants would be put on fixed-term contracts and the salaries."

One "senior official" told The Times' Jill Sherman: "People are ****ed off generally about the plans.”

Bringing in more private sector expertise is only one of the means by which the Conservatives hope to improve the effectiveness of Whitehall:

  • A stronger Downing Street operation - with George Osborne and David Cameron merging the offices of Numbers 10 and 11 - is at the heart of the Tory plan to shake up Whitehall.
  • There are rumours that all Cabinet ministers will be located together - outside of their departments and civil servants will come to their central location for meetings. This 'beehive' model already operates in New Zealand.
  • Individual ministers may be given very specific jobs. Rather than, for example, Mr X is appointed as Minister for Transport, they will be appointed as Minister for High-Speed Rail. They'll be given security of appointment for a definite period (barring significant misdemeanours) and will be judged on their progress in negotiating contracts, financing etc.

One thing that won't change radically will be government department configuration, however.  More traditional Departments for Education and Trade and Industry are likely to emerge from the Mandelson and Balls empires.  There will be some form of social justice body created but it may be a powerful Cabinet committee (under Iain Duncan Smith's chairmanship) rather than a new department.

Tim Montgomerie

7 Oct 2009 15:20:59

Dannatt and Dyson sign up to David Cameron's government-in-waiting of all the talents

In a major coup for the Conservatives, news has leaked that General Sir Richard Dannatt will become a defence adviser to the party.

Sir Richard ended his time as Chief of the General Staff in August after a tumultuous relationship with the Labour government.

Earlier this week he attacked Labour for ignoring military advice on the need to send more troops and equipment to Afghanistan.  It is very unusual for an ex-Chief of the General Staff to join a political party in this way.  Sir Richard's predecessors have tended to serve as crossbenchers in the Lords.

At a time when politicians are so distrusted, the inexperienced Tory leadership see appointments of serious figures like Sir Richard as a reassurance to the electorate that a Conservative government will have the capacity to deliver competence and effectiveness.  Earlier this week in another sign of this phenomenon Sir James Dyson, the vacuum cleaner entrepreneur, became a 'technology tsar' for the party.

Tim Montgomerie

4.15pm: Chris Grayling admits to being embarrassed over his misunderstanding of the Dannatt appointment (he had said he hoped it was not a political gimmick after thinking it was a Labour appointment) but in this BBC interview welcomes what Sir Richard can bring to the Conservatives:

12 Sep 2009 07:39:45

The Telegraph concludes its "Path to Power" series looking at the Conservatives by interviewing David Cameron and praising his "strong set of core principles"

CAMERON DAVID official There is little new in the Daily Telegraph's interview today with David Cameron, whose hair is - according to the paper's interviewers - "going noticeably grey".

He reaffirms the pledge to scrap inheritance tax on estates worth less than £1 million and describes as "crucial" the party's commitment to maintaining the newly re-established link between the state pension and earnings.

The party leader states that he "would rather not get elected saying the right thing than get elected saying the wrong thing. Because if you get elected saying the wrong thing you are going to be a failure.”

He also refers to William Hague in terms as “a very capable deputy” for the first time.

In a separately written up item, the paper also discloses that Mr Cameron has opened talks with the unions over how to tackle the cost of public sector pensions and pay:

The private meeting with Brendan Barber, the general secretary of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), took place in the Conservative leader's Commons office. They had a "sensible" dialogue on the future of public sector pensions, Mr Cameron said.

But there will arguably more interest in picking through the paper's editorial at the end of its series considering the Conservatives' readiness to take power within the year.

In recognising that the party does not have a poll lead quite as vast as that enjoyed by Tony Blair, Mr Cameron runs the risk of being too timid, argues the editorial, and should be extolling his "strong set of core  principles":

"In seeking to avoid complacency, there is always a danger of timidity and eclecticism, of trying to please too many people, while failing to project a coherent set of values and beliefs that voters can easily recognise and with which they can identify. As is clear from many of his public speeches, the Conservative leader does possess a strong set of core principles:

  • he believes in the Union and respects this country's traditions and heritage;
  • he is enthusiastic about social and welfare reform;
  • he is suspicious of big government and all its trappings;
  • he is unapologetic in his approval of marriage and the family;
  • he believes taxes should be as low as possible and that the money should be properly accounted for, that spending should be constrained and the public finances put in order.
These are recognisably Tory instincts; they are shared by many who have not voted for the party in recent years who can be persuaded to once again. Mr Cameron has no need to hide them, and every reason to extol them."

It goes on to suggest that the Tory leader needs to be "more collegiate in his leadership style" and "cast his more widely to make use of experienced former ministers" as well as those outside politics - not the first time those criticism have been made.

And in rightly stating that he is wise to take nothing for granted, the editorial concludes:

"The task is to persuade a lot more people who are heartily sick of the Government that a Tory administration offers an alternative that will benefit them, their families and the country as a whole."

Jonathan Isaby

23 Jul 2009 08:53:24

David Cameron tells The Sun he is ready to govern, will protect frontline services from the inevitable spending cuts, and warns union leaders not to take him on

David Cameron waist up The Sun - which appears to me increasingly prepared to declare its backing for the Conservatives at the next general election - carries an interview with David Cameron this morning.

The party leader tells the paper that after three and half years as Opposition leader he is more ready than ever to take on the job of Prime Minister:

"I have done good preparation for the job. I'm more confident about what the job entails. I'm very confident of my team and the people around me. The scale of the task has got a lot greater. There are some really tough challenges we face as a country.

"But it is what I want to do. I'm brimming with energy and enthusiasm to do the job. I believe that in life you have to give things your best shot, do your best. You have to focus on what needs to be done, do the right thing, not the popular thing." 

On the state of the public finances, he said:

"I am looking Sun readers in the eye - and we have to cut public spending. I will do it in a fair way. I will protect frontline services. I will do the right thing. Everyone in this country knows it needs to be done."

And he also sends out a tough-talking message to the country's union leaders:

"My message to union leaders who think they can take me on is simple: Don't do it. An elected government will have a mandate and I would say to union leaders, I want to have good relations with these people. They have an important part to play. They know themselves that Britain is living well beyond its means and savings need to be made. But my message to the unions on this is: I'm certainly not planning on losing."

Jonathan Isaby

19 Jul 2009 08:57:38

Cameron's Government Of All the Talents

Jones, sir digby Interesting piece by Lord Digby Jones in the Mail on Sunday about his brief experience of government.  His key points include...

  • How can Jacqui Smith with no experience of running anything in her previous life have expected to master a department like the Home Office?  He writes: "Jacqui Smith is a good woman, trying to change the world for the better as she sees it. But expecting her to deliver in the post of Home Secretary without a scintilla of experience or training was not only unfair on her but damaging to us all."
  • Government ministers are expected to do too much: "No other major developed economy demands so much of their Ministers. All have constituencies and re-election to worry about. All have to deal with the highly centralised control-freakery of No10, something started by the Thatcher administration and happily continued by her successors... My Red Box was full every night, often with documents to sign that I had never seen before. I was expected to take responsibility for matters in which I had had absolutely no involvement."
  • Gordon Brown's 'GOATS' experiment was on to something important: "Since becoming Prime Minister, Gordon Brown has done some things badly and some well. One thing he did recognise was that the current system of delivery of services did not work and he introduced his GOATS.  By introducing specialists such as Alan West from the Royal Navy into Security, Ara Darzi from the surgeon’s table into Health, Mark Malloch-Brown from the United Nations into the Foreign Office and me from the CBI into overseas trade and investment promotion, he was not only on to a good thing but he had the courage to face down his own party and other vested interests to do it... Let us have senior Ministers who are skilled in the field in which they are asked to operate."
  • Civil servants are too risk averse: Jones quotes the greeting he received from one civil servant: "‘I know you intend to do things differently round here,’ he said, ‘but just remember you’ll be gone in a couple of years while we all have careers to build and no one here is going to harm his or her career for the sake of this new idea.’"
  • There are too many MPs: "Let us have fewer of them. India, with a billion people, has recently elected just 500 MPs to serve them. We have 675 to serve just 60million."

David Cameron will enter government with a very inexperienced ministerial team.  Of existing frontbenchers only Alistair Burt, Ken Clarke, Liam Fox, William Hague, Francis Maude, Andrew Mitchell and David Willetts have held government posts (Oops! 11.30am correction: I missed Simon Burns, James Clappison, Cheryl Gillan and Patrick McLoughlin from my list).  What should he do?  Some quick thoughts:

Continue reading "Cameron's Government Of All the Talents" »

7 Jul 2009 08:52:34

What is a Tory Government for?

CAMERON AT NUMBER TEN That is the question asked by Philip Stephens in this morning's Financial Times.

He contends that a couple of years ago, before the economic crash, the answer "seemed obvious enough":

"Mr Cameron was a modern Tory, at ease with Britain’s social liberalism and attuned to its attachment to taxpayer-funded public services. His post-Thatcherite Conservatism squared the circle between individual aspiration and responsibility (viz. lower taxes) and a society cherishing first-rate schools and hospitals. The way to do it, the Tory leader proclaimed, was to share the proceeds of economic growth between investment in the public realm and a lower tax burden."

But now, Stephens continues, having accepted the need for widespread cuts (while wanting to spare health and overseas aid budgets from cuts), the party finds itself "stranded in a political no man’s land".

Is this really fair? Whilst there is some debate within the party over the wisdom of immunising certain areas from spending reductions (and it is unclear at this stage exactly what state the of economy will be in a year's time in any case), there remain a number of areas where the Conservative agenda for government is  distinct from that of the current Labour administration.

My instinctive three-part answer to Philip Stephens' question would be: 

  • To restore civil liberties to people which have been taken away over the last decade and transfer power from the state to the individual in a wide range of areas;
  • To fix the "broken society", covering a whole gamut of issues including tackling illiteracy, family breakdown, welfare dependency, and associated crime, addictions etc;
  • To negotiate a new settlement regarding Britain's relationship with the EU on the basis that we are unwilling to accept the Lisbon Treaty as the settled will of the British people.

What do you think a Conservative government is for?

Jonathan Isaby

28 Jun 2009 08:51:28

Cameron considers joint Downing Street HQ with Osborne

Osborne & Cameron 2 I have just completed my 15,000 word guide to David Cameron's 'West Wing' - a guide to the key shadow cabinet members and staff advisers that have taken the Conservative Party to the edge of power.  It'll be formally published on Tuesday at our 'Inside David Cameron's Conservatives' conference.

I mention it today, though, because Fraser Nelson has previewed one of the key findings in today's News of the World (not online):

"I hear Cameron and Osborne have a novel idea for government: move in together.  They're thinking of sharing one big HQ, rather than settle down in No10 and the Treasury respectively."

As I've been studying Cameron's West Wing the most striking thing is the power of George Osborne.  George isn't just Shadow Chancellor; he's also General Election co-ordinator.  It is no exaggeration to say that as I've been meeting staffers over recent weeks in preparation for this guide, George Osborne's name is mentioned at least three times as often as David Cameron’s.  In reporting this I'm not suggesting that Osborne is more influential than the man who leads the Conservative Party.  He obviously isn't.  My conversations with staffers have focused on the workings of the Tory machine and it is clear that they defer to Osborne when key decisions of tactics, resource deployment and staffing are made.  If you look back on many of Project Cameron's biggest decisions - abandoning uber-modernisation, recruiting Andy Coulson, overhauling Boris Johnson's campaign - George Osborne's influence is enormous.

George Osborne's power is reflected in the geographical arrangement of the Tory leader's office.  See the crude sketch below:

Click on image to enlarge

Geography3 Osborne's staff, headed by Matt Hancock but also including the super-influentials, Rupert Harrison and Rohan Silva, sit within the leadership suite.  Also there, notably, is Oliver Letwin (who, I say in the report, is one of four shadow cabinet influentials).

OSBORNE OUTSIDE HMTThe proximity of the Osborne and Cameron offices is something the Tory leadership is anxious to retain if the Conservatives win the General Election.  I am not aware of definite plans for integrating Numbers 10 and 11 Downing Street but thinking is going in that direction.

Tim Montgomerie

26 Jun 2009 07:03:08

Has the time come for all members of the Shadow Cabinet to give up their outside interests?

SHADOW CABINET (SOME) This morning's Guardian reports that some members of the shadow cabinet will retain their outside interests until "just before the general election".

It comes in the wake of the decision by some of those at the top table - such as Andrew Mitchell, Alan Duncan and Grant Shapps - now to forgo lucrative outside earnings before they would have been obliged to declare the details of what they are being paid for those other jobs as of next month.

In November last year, it was reported that David Cameron wanted his shadow cabinet ministers to give up all of their outside interests; however, he did not pursue that course of action after apparent resistance from within the ranks.

As I have written before, I am not opposed to our MPs having outside interests in principle - on the contrary - and blanket bans on things are generally to be questioned. For example, I think there is a difference between spending an hour on a Sunday morning firing off a column for a newspaper and regularly going into an office to work on a weekday.

But as the inevitable general election gets ever closer, is not the time coming for the shadow cabinet to call time on those outside jobs which the public will surely see as a distraction from the task of ousting Labour and preparing to take the reins of government?

I suggest that it would be a powerful signal that the Conservatives are serious about wanting to take power if, by the time of the party conference, David Cameron can announce that all his shadow cabinet have rescinded their business interests and are 100% focused on the main matter in hand.

Jonathan Isaby

23 Jun 2009 12:54:00

Learning lessons from the three resignations from Team Boris

AxedBorisAide Yesterday Boris Johnson lost his third Deputy since becoming London's Mayor thirteen months ago.

Today's Evening Standard suggests that Ian Clement resigned after dishonest expenses claims.  Clement, 44, claimed to be meeting London council leaders when he was allegedly meeting his lover, 23.

Mr Clement's resignation follows the earlier departures of Ray Lewis and Tim Parker.

All three resignations are unfortunate but Boris Johnson has overcome these problems and has built a very strong core team of Anthony Browne (Policy), Guto Harri (Communications), Malthouse (Policing) and Milton (Policy and Planning).

I hope the Conservative Party is watching this whole business carefully, however.  Nick Boles - who ran Boris Johnson's transition - is heading up the Party's Implementation Team with Francis Maude.  Some personnel problems are unavoidable but there must be lessons from this.  I think particularly of vetting procedures, agreeing structures in advance and also the strength of guidance that is issued to those that David Cameron will appoint to his own team (should he become Prime Minister).

A key difference between Team Boris and Team Cameron is the stability of the latter's 'inner sanctum'.  As ConHome will reveal in a few days' time - with the publication of our profile of 'David Cameron's West Wing' - the Cameron machine is characterised by very stable relationships, forged over many years. 

Tim Montgomerie

4 May 2009 17:13:19


Click here for previous posts.