Conservative Diary

Team Cameron

20 Sep 2013 08:24:26

The lesson of Damian McBride's memoirs is that Labour is the Nasty Party

By Paul Goodman
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Screen shot 2013-09-20 at 08.00.21In 2001 or so, I wrote a speech for Iain Duncan Smith that went well enough, and was drafted on the back of it into his team for Prime Minister's Questions prep.  The other three members were David Cameron, George Osborne and Boris Johnson (and I should say in passing that those first two were infinitely better at the task than I was).  I thus spent part of each week, for the best half of four years, with the duo that leads the Conservative Party.

I never saw them tip the wink at their underlings to "destroy" a senior Shadow Minister, or leak details of another's alleged "drinking, fighting and carousing", or tip off newspapers about their rivals "drug use, spousal abuse, alcoholism and extra-marital affairs" - all conduct that Damian McBride writes of in his memoir, serialisation of which opens in the Daily Mail today. There are three possible explanations for this (assuming that Tory MPs as well as Labour ones are vulnerable to drinking, fighting, carousing, drug use, spousal abuse, alcoholism and extra-marital affairs which, since human nature is a given, is a reasonable presumption).

The first is that I'm incapable of seeing what goes on at the end of my nose.  The second is that Cameron and Osborne did all this and more when I wasn't around.  The third is that it didn't happen - or at least, to nothing like the same degree. Call me sentimental, self-deceived or a liar, but I'm sure the explanaton is the third. You don't get to the top of politics without being ruthless - and both are as much so as any politician I worked with during my ten years in the Commons. None the less, I can't imagine either discussing plans to set up a paper called, say, "Blue Rag" to smear a woman Labour MP with fictitious tales - as McBride did in relation to Nadine Dorries.

Continue reading "The lesson of Damian McBride's memoirs is that Labour is the Nasty Party" »

3 Sep 2013 08:04:47

UKIP is part of a global splintering of the Right and is probably here to stay

By Tim Montgomerie
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Screen Shot 2013-09-03 at 16.58.21Andy Coulson, David Cameron's former head of communications, has written an article for the October edition of GQ (out this week) in which he gives some advice on how the Tories might counter UKIP. In summary...

  • David Cameron, Ken Clarke and every Tory should abandon "dismissive, arrogant and downright rude" attitudes to UKIP's members.
  • UKIP's key selling point is not Europe or even immigration but the way it has presented itself as a home for voters unhappy with mainstream politics and politicians.
  • UKIP's key vulnerability is that it is inauthentic in presenting itself as politics' outsiders - "A party that claims to be anti-sleaze," he writes, "is riddled with the same problems of vanity and self-interest that inflict all the major parties... and before any real power has been secured or scrutiny applied."
  • Nigel Farage should actually be seen as Nigel "Mirage" - many of his party's MEPs have had questionable ethics records, his economic policies don't add up (they have a £120 billion black hole, Coulson claims) and, far from improving politics, UKIP adds to the crudeness.
  • A still tougher and more sceptical line from the Tories on Europe ahead of next year's EP elections is needed as well as a focus on competence. Overall: "The Conservatives should tread carefully on immigration but never tire of talking about fairness, particularly on jobs, welfare, health and the cost of living."

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31 Aug 2013 10:30:03

Downing Street's Corporal Jones moment?

By Paul Goodman
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I asked yesterday whether David Cameron or the Whips bore the main responsibility for this week's party management disaster over Syria.  A day later, the answer is evident.  Downing Street presumed, not unreasonably, that Ed Miliband would deliver a Labour abstention on the vote.  The Whips - also not unreasonably - took their cue from Number 10, made the same presumption, and told some Conservative MPs that they didn't need to return.  One was no less senior a person than the Chairman of the 1922 Committee.  In essence, the Prime Minister was prepared to hold a vote on missile strikes despite opposition to the move from a third or more of Tory MPs.  This is party mismanagement on an epic scale.

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30 Aug 2013 11:11:14

An inner Cabinet. More status for Whips. Changes in his circle - and at the Foreign Office. What Cameron should do next.

Cam ear fingers 2

By Paul Goodman
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  • Yesterday evening's vote makes no real difference to anything.  The economy will continue to grow, David Cameron will recover his position, Britain's non-intervention in Syria will be a mere blip in the continuing special relationship with America, our world standing won't be affected, the Commons will continue to assert itself - and the Westminster Village will calm down.
  • Yesterday evening's vote marks a sea-change in our foreign policy and a shattering of the Special Relationship - as well as a wounding blow to Cameron's authority, a shot in the arm for his previously demoralised Tory opponents, and a wiping-out of the ascendancy over Labour that Downing Street has achieved over the summer.  Britain cuts a diminished international figure on the world stage.

In the aftermath of yesterday evening's vote - apparently unparalleled since 1782 - it is impossible to know which version of events is the more accurate.  What is clear, however, is that the failure of the Prime Minister's gamble over Syria is a reminder that the success of his summer to date has not bridged the gap of trust which persists between him and his MPs, and which at times can widen into a gulf.

Number 10 would be in panic mode were it immediately to effect the changes recommended below - the first two of which this site has been campaigning for since I became its Editor in April.  But until or unless they are implemented, the progress which Downing Street has made since the Queen's Speech and the Baron amendment will be at constant risk of being set back. A hung Parliament requires a more collective style of leadership.

  • Cameron needs to share authority with his most senior colleagues in an Inner Cabinet, and consult its Conservative members more often.  I know from talking to some of the latter that they don't expect Cabinet to be a debating society.  None the less, they are fed up with being cut out of decision-making when they feel their views and advice would help the Prime Minister.  The Inner Cabinet should be based on what office its members hold, not on their personal relations with the Cameron, and should consist of the Chancellor, the Foreign Secretary, the Home Secretary, the Leader of the House, the Chief Whip and the Party Chairman who sits in the Commons.
  • The status of the Whips Office should be raised.  Sir George Young was brought back as Chief Whip after Andrew Mitchell's resignation, and brought a sense of calm and courtesy to its workings.  It would be unfair to blame the Whips for the decision by Cameron to try to impose his view on Syria on an unhappy Parliamentary Party.  And it would be a mistake to try to re-impose military-style whipping on the independent-minded generation of MPs elected in 2010.  Furthermore, the best changes in the world won't improve the Whips if Downing Street doesn't listen to them.  Tony Blair moved them out of Number 12. They should be moved back to the heart of the Downing Street complex.
  • Cameron's inner circle should widen.  None the less, Number 10 would benefit from having a Chief Whip and Leader of the House more independent of the Prime Minister, and thus in a better position to "speak truth to power".  No Cabinet reshuffle is expected, and this isn't the time for it.  But in due course one of the 2010 intake is required in a senior position in the Whips Office, and the next Chief Whip needs to be a listener and an organiser.  Greg Hands or Nicky Morgan could act as Deputy.  David Lidington, Mark Harper or Oliver Heald are good candidates to be Chief Whip.  Eric Pickles is as independent-minded as Cabinet members get, and as Leader of the House would give Cameron plain and shrewd advice.
  • The Foreign Office doesn't reflect the views and mood of the Parliamentary Party This should change.  I've been concerned for some time that the gap between its view of EU policy and that of the Party is too wide: the balance of competences review has so far proved the point.  It also doesn't reflect the shift towards giving the national interest a higher priority that has been taking place in the Parliamentary Party since Iraq.  Mark Francois is a former Shadow Europe Minister, very much a Euro-sceptic and a senior Minister at Defence, where he will have a grasp of what our armed forces now can and can't do. He should be moved across to King Charles Street before the election.

29 Aug 2013 10:16:33

Perhaps David Cameron does read ConHome...

By Tim Montgomerie
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Earlier this week The Spectator's James Forsyth reported that the PM's trusted aide Gaby Bertin would return from maternity leave to run a new Department of External Relations. The appointment is the latest attempt to strengthen the Downing Street operation, including the appointment of The Sun's Graeme Wilson as press secretary. A Department of External Relations - based on the White House model - has long been proposed by ConHome (also here and here) as a way of ensuring effective management of relationships with strategic opinion-formers, including third party organisations and charities. Time will tell if this DExR will get adequate resources and whether Gaby Bertin will be empowered to build long-term relations with groups like the RSPB, FSB and think tanks - or whether she'll be constantly pulled into day-to-day responding to events. That caution aside, its formation is welcome news.

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27 Aug 2013 16:56:41

The Number 10 operation is beefed up by two wise choices

By Mark Wallace
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DOWNING ST INSIDEIt's been common knowledge for a while that Cameron's team have been looking at a Number 10 shakeup.

The news today that Graeme Wilson, Deputy Political Editor of The Sun, has been appointed as press secretary is one result of that process.

It's a good choice - Graeme has a great nose for a story, and just as importantly is extremely likeable. Not everyone in the Lobby gets on with each other, to put it mildly, so it is both important and tricky to secure a candidate who is universally liked.

There are two interesting aspects to flag up. The first is that while parts of the left predictably moan about "another Murdoch man" being hired, it isn't that simple. As well as Murdoch's supposed control of individual journalists being very much exaggerated, Wilson hasn't always worked at The Sun. Indeed, he spent ten years writing for other papers before joining it - several of them at the Daily Telegraph.

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24 Jul 2013 07:04:13

Yesterday's statements won't quell the Lynton Crosby controversy

Crosby Lynton 1
By Paul Goodman

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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.

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21 Jul 2013 10:53:41

From firmness on internet standards to wobbliness on Crosby – Cameron’s Marr interview

By Peter Hoskin
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David Cameron was chin-juttingly firm about many subjects in his interview with Andrew Marr. On child pornography, the main subject of the piece, he warned of “stronger laws” if the internet firms don’t act stronger themselves. On the idea that Samantha Cameron is influencing Government policy toward Syria, he claimed it’s “a total urban myth”. And on Europe, he raised the prospect of Brexit if we don’t get the renegotiation we want.

But it was two wobblier moments that stood out. The first was on Lynton Crosby, when Cameron twice or thrice declined to directly answer the question of whether he had ever spoken with his adviser about plain packaging for cigarettes. Instead, he tried a one-size-fits-all response – “He’s not advising us on policy or issues and he doesn’t intervene on those” – and laughed “that’s the answer you’re getting” when Marr pressed him to be more specific.

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20 Jul 2013 12:40:33

Crosby: Will Cameron adopt the ConservativeHome solution?

By Paul Goodman
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Crosby LyntonThe Andy Coulson saga involves a trial.  The Lynton Crosby controversy does not.  This helps to explain why the latter is a classic Westminster Village story, with its complex calculations about conflicting interests and chinese walls.  (David Cameron's strategist is a Party and not a Government employee, and even then only a part-time one.)  Boris Johnson's dismissal of the whole business as a "storm in a teacup" will have reflected Downing Street's hope that the Crosby story is only still running because the lobby has little else to write about at the end of the Parliamentary term.

However, the story won't go away forever or even for long, whether this hope is realised or not.  Any enterprising journalist can simply look at Government policy on the one hand, dig around about Crosby's business interests on the other...and then write his story.  Number 10 will want to close this drip-feed of allegations down, rather than take the risk of them not reverberating beyond the village.  I wrote earlier this week that there are only two ways of doing so - either sacking Crosby, or promoting him: in other words, getting him to drop his other clients until 2015, which would involve, as Boris puts it, killing the fatted calf, pushing the boat out and "doing whatever it takes".

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16 Jul 2013 08:25:36

First drop Crosby's other clients. Then put him completely in charge.

Crosby Lynton 1
By Paul Goodman

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It doesn't seem to have occured to Lynton Crosby's critics that he could both have a commercial interest in a policy and believe that it's right for the Conservatives.  The decision not to impose plain packaging on cigarette packets is a good example.  The Australian strategist is an experienced communicator of conventional conservatism - of the immigration-restricting, welfare-capping, tax-cutting, patriotism-proclaiming variety - and believes that anything which gets in its way must be cleared out.

David Cameron's Big Society instincts, with their fondess for miniumum alcohol pricing and cigarette plain packaging, might have been deliberately drawn up to drive our antipodean visitor nuts.  (Remember Cameron's opposition attack on W.H.Smith for its offering of chocolate oranges at checkouts rather than real oranges.)  There is a connection between Crosby's talent for no-nonsense advice, the sharper Tory profile of the past few months and the Conservative poll recovery.  The Independent's last poll of polls found the gap between the two main parties closing.  Today's Guardian ICM poll finds that it has closed altogether.

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