Conservative Diary

Team Cameron

25 Apr 2013 15:27:53

Cameron lowers the Downing Street drawbridge and invites new voices into his bunker

By Tim Montgomerie
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Is David Cameron finally getting his machine into shape? There are signs that he might be.

There has been the skilful and sensitive management of the sad death of Margaret Thatcher. The PM has used the period to reconnect with some of his MPs - dining with key Thatcherites and writing handwritten notes to every one of his colleagues who spoke in the Commons debate to mark her death. He was at Tuesday night's launch of Charles Moore's biography of the Iron Lady, meeting and talking with key members of her Cabinets.

Overnight he did two things that I've long recommended: (1) He set up a policy unit of Tory MPs and (2) he rehabilitated... Some of the new members of his policy unit are people who have rebelled against his authority, notably Jesse Norman and Peter Lilley. Yesterday the Downing Street drawbridge came down. Light was let into the Number 10 bunker and new thinking was invited into the Prime Minister's operation.

Jo Johnson is an able enough individual but it is regrettable that yet another Old Etonian occupies yet another key position at the heart of the party. Overall, however, we're seeing a Prime Minister who is finally getting serious about party management. Many people are correctly crediting Lynton Crosby with improvements to the operation, but the real driving force of better personnel relations is John Hayes MP – appointed as the PM's parliamentary adviser a few days before Lady Thatcher's death.

While the PM is in a forgiving and healing mood he should warn uber-loyalist colleagues to end their briefing against Theresa May. He should also restore the whip to Nadine Dorries. The whips want this to happen but Numbers 10 and 11 are resisting.

25 Apr 2013 12:11:28

The (sort of) return of Steve Hilton

By Peter Hoskin
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HiltonThis new Parliamentary Advisory Board on Policy? Turns out it’s not just Parliamentary. No.10 has confirmed to us what Tom Newton Dunn reported: that Steve Hilton will involve himself in its meetings about once a month.

This is good news, in a way. As I’ve said before, Mr Hilton is exactly the sort of freethinker that David Cameron needs around him. And the news is sure to cheer Tory backbenchers, who have collectively warmed to him in his absence.

But let’s not read too much into all this. I used the words “will involve himself,” above, for a reason – because it’s not entirely clear what the extent of Mr Hilton's involvement will be. Sometimes he might join the meetings in person, if he’s around London. But, otherwise, he may just dial in from California.

That set-up doesn’t sound too far removed from what Mr Hilton has being doing already: getting on with a life away from No.10, while helping out his former boss from time to time. It’s what he did for Mr Cameron’s last conference speech, after all.

In which case, I wouldn’t count this as a proper return. If anything, it could suggest that such a return isn’t likely, and that Mr Hilton would prefer to advise from a distance. Who knows? Perhaps his weeping frustrations with Government still haven’t healed.

24 Apr 2013 22:50:19

Cameron's wooing of Tory MPs continues as new MP advisers appointed - including Boris's brother

Screen shot 2013-04-24 at 22.54.41
Screen shot 2013-04-24 at 22.22.33

By Paul Goodman
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Three questions:

  • Johnson JoThe Policy Unit is a Government policy unit, not a Conservative Party policy unit. So what's the LibDems' role in the new set-up?
  • How will the bright and energetic Jo Johnson - who knows a lot about India, by the way - spread himself between running the Policy Unit and working for his constituents?
  • Does the carefully-balanced advisory board, containing, in order, one young One Nation-orientated thinker, campaigner and writer (and former rebel: a bit of rehabilitation going on here); one hugely experienced and intelligent right-wing former Minister; one former senior Cameron aide; one woman from the left of the party; one Sikh MP who holds a marginal seat; one immensely hard-working and expert former Minister (who, arguably, should never have been sacked at all), one centre-right MP with a very marginal seat, and one modernising, economically liberal woman...well, does it really mean anything?  Will it have a real role in shaping policy? How will it fit alongside the 1922 Committee's policy groups and the Conservative Policy Forum.

Three observations:

The Prime Minister clearly wants to fill some of the gaps in Number 10 which the Times's Rachel Sylvester covered earlier this week and we've also covered previously - as well as to correct his original error of letting the civil service shape the Policy Unit.

Congratulations to all!

23 Apr 2013 08:18:28

Why senior staff leave Downing Street. They don't feel Cameron has a mission. Or they don't think he'll win. Or both.

By Paul Goodman
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Earlier this month, after the news was announced of Rohan Silva's depature from Downing Street, I listed some of those who had left previously:

  • Tim Chatwin, Head of Strategic Communications.
  • James O’Shaughnessy, Head of Policy.
  • Peter Campbell, who helped to prepare him for Prime Minister's Questions - as he did former Conservative leaders.
  • And Steve Hilton (who needs no introduction).

Continue reading "Why senior staff leave Downing Street. They don't feel Cameron has a mission. Or they don't think he'll win. Or both." »

14 Apr 2013 08:18:46

As Andrew Cooper departs No.10, the question for David Cameron is “Why?”

By Peter Hoskin
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Andrew CooperSteve Hilton, James O’Shaughnessy, Tim Chatwin and, more recently, Rohan Silva. And now Andrew Cooper’s name can be added to the list of senior advisers to have departed from David Cameron’s side. According to today’s Mail on Sunday, Mr Cooper, who was appointed Director of Government Strategy in 2011, is returning to the polling company that he helped found. He will, it's said, continue to do a bit of work for the Tory party.

But why? And why now? The MoS puts it down to the presence of Lynton Crosby in No.10. As one source tells the paper, “There was never going to be room for both Andrew and Lynton” – and it’s a sentiment that I’ve heard from my own sources plenty of times before. The idea is that the modernising Mr Cooper and the blunter Mr Crosby were rubbing up badly against each other. Friction ensued.

Continue reading "As Andrew Cooper departs No.10, the question for David Cameron is “Why?”" »

2 Apr 2013 20:59:12

Hilton. O’Shaughnessy. Peter Campbell. Tim Chatwin. All gone from Number 10. And now Rohan Silva is to leave

By Paul Goodman
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  • Screen shot 2013-04-02 at 20.55.52Tim Chatwin was Head of Strategic Communications.
  • James O’Shaughnessy was Head of Policy.
  • Peter Campbell was a long-time researcher to Cameron, who helped to prepare him for Prime Minister's Questions - as he did former Conservative leaders.
  • Steve Hilton was...well, Hilton needs no introduction to our readers.
  • (...And then there was Andy Coulson...a bit of a special case...)

And now Rohan Silva is to leave, according to Sky News.  It is claimed that he wants "to launch a business in the digital education sector".  I first got to know Silva, who is now a senior policy adviser to David Cameron, when he was working for George Osborne, and this engaging, bright and charming figure deserves all the good wishes that he can take with him when he goes.

Continue reading "Hilton. O’Shaughnessy. Peter Campbell. Tim Chatwin. All gone from Number 10. And now Rohan Silva is to leave" »

28 Mar 2013 15:13:28

Why Samantha Cameron went to Syria

By Paul Goodman
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Two of the behind-the-scenes players in the Syrian drama are Britain and Russia - Britain, because it is one of most intervention-leaning western countries, and Russia, because it is the Assad regime's main diplomatic backer (Iran excepted).  The possible emergence of a hardline Sunni Islamist government, were the regime to fall, is an important part of their conversation.  Russia argues that this would be a disastrous outcome for the region, that other evils could govern Syria that are even worse than Assad, and that backing the Syrian resistance is therefore unwise.

Britain agrees the appearance of such a government would be alarming and that, were Al Qaeda to have institutional influence in Syria, this would obviously be even more so.  But it disagrees strongly with Russia about how to deal with Assad.  The longer he clings on in government, the Foreign Office argues, the more time Al Qaeda and other extremist elements will have to strengthen their position.  In a nutshell, its case is that all Russia is achieving by helping Assad to cling to power is making the outcome that it fears more likely to happen.

Continue reading "Why Samantha Cameron went to Syria" »

28 Mar 2013 09:10:40

Two of the Conservative Party's success stories get bigger roles: Fallon and Hayes

By Tim Montgomerie
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David Cameron has conducted a mini reshuffle this morning. He has appointed John Hayes MP to the Cabinet Office and Michael Fallon will be taking over John's Energy brief. Both men have been two of the Coalition's success stories.

HAYES JOHNTaking John Hayes first. In his previous ministerial incarnation Hayes oversaw the Coalition's skills and apprenticeships policy. He was a master of the subject - having shadowed the portfolio for most of the last parliament. In government he worked closely with George Osborne to ensure that, in this era of austerity, this long-term investment in our nation's future got extra funding rather than less. Hayes has had a rocky relationship with Ed Davey at DECC, with the two men disagreeing rather publicly over windfarms policy. Nonetheless, I understand that one of John Hayes' last acts was to sign off a settlement of the government's onshore wind policy. It's not exactly clear what John Hayes' new role will be but the MP for South Holland and the Deepings and co-founder of the Cornerstone Group understands the Right of the Tory Party (including the 2010 intake) and Number 10 doesn't. Hayes will be acting as a political and parliamentary adviser to the PM and will, I hope, be doing a lot more media. His non-southern, non-posh voice is one the Conservatives lack. He is a curious mix of Right-wing and One Nation. He signs up to nearly all traditional Tory positions on immigration, Europe, crime and the family (especially the family) but he's not much of a liberal when it comes to economic matters. Although a businessman before entering politics he's never been much of a fan of free trade. He sees a large role for the state in providing a social safety-net and underpinning UK manufacturing. Cameron's decision to bring Hayes into his inner team - a team that doesn't understand working class Conservatives - is a very good one. Hayes recently claimed to be the personification of blue collar conservatism.

Continue reading "Two of the Conservative Party's success stories get bigger roles: Fallon and Hayes" »

22 Mar 2013 15:53:37

Margaret Thatcher listed her Cabinet allies and opponents. Who would Cameron list today?

By Tim Montgomerie
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Newly-released papers from Lady Thatcher's personal archive have been widely reported today. One that caught my eye was Ken Clarke's opposition to the Falklands War. The man who was a regular thorn in Margaret Thatcher's side but was then a very small Tory beast is reported to have said that Britain should “blow up a few ships but nothing more”.

In terms of thorns in her side The Independent's Andy McSmith has highlighted Maggie's own list of people who she regarded as on her side and against her. Only Cecil Parkinson, Norman Tebbit, Keith Joseph and Nigel Lawson were seen as truly one of us. Nigel Lawson, of course, failed to stay true by the end of the 1980s. Normal Fowler also appears in the "for us" list but only gets a half mark!

In the list of opponents Michael Heseltine doesn't even merit a mention. Mrs Thatcher's Chancellor - Geoffrey Howe - is listed. The man who would later precipitate the successful leadership contest against her wasn't, it seems, trusted from the beginning.

Continue reading "Margaret Thatcher listed her Cabinet allies and opponents. Who would Cameron list today?" »

13 Mar 2013 11:51:49

Who will run the 2015 election campaign?

By Paul Goodman
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Screen shot 2013-03-13 at 11.40.30Yesterday's meeting of the Conservative Parliamentary Party has already been well covered.  James Kirkup has described how backbench MPs told Cabinet Ministers to row in behind Cameron.  James Forsyth has reported how one MP in a marginal seat - James Morris - told his colleagues to stop making difficulty for people like him.  (Another one, Sarah Wollaston, defended her right to tweet as she pleases.)

One more point.  I'm told that David Cameron indicated that Lynton Crosby, whose performance cheered up Tory MPs, will run the Conservatives' 2015 campaign and have authority over it.  My view remains that there's no point in having another cook spoiling the broth in Cameron's kitchen, and that Crosby must therefore be unambiguously in charge.

Continue reading "Who will run the 2015 election campaign?" »