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Cameron’s Choice Advisers Comes Under Scrutiny

Last Updated: Friday, August 20th, 2010

CAMERON’S CHOICE ADVISERS COMES UNDER SCRUTINY

David Cameron has gone on holiday this week, and got into trouble about advisers. The appointment of Sir Philip Green as an efficiency guru, working on the Government’s public spending review, was savaged by the Daily Mail and questioned elsewhere. Yesterday, it was announced that another Mail target – David Rowland, the Conservative Party’s Treasurer-to-be – won’t be taking up the position.

Both Rowland and Green were targeted by the Mail over their tax arrangements. Leon Brittan’s drafting-in as a temporary adviser on trade for six months – while the Government continues its search for a Trade Minister – caused less of a media stir, but each incident raised questions about David Cameron’s use and choice of advisers, and the consequences of both.

There are essentially three sorts of adviser to this government. Special Advisers, who are salaried employees attached to Government Departments, business people (such as Green, Rowland or Peter Levene, who’s working on part of the defence review) and senior ex-Labour politicians, such as Alan Milburn, the former Health Secretary, brought in to review social mobility, or John Hutton, the former Defence Secretary, appointed to examine the condition of public sector pensions.

Cameron has appointed too few special advisers. They’re needed to help drive Ministers’ political priorities through departments, and are often welcome in them, since senior civil servants like to see a clear sense of direction set out. However, the Prime Minister decided to cut their number as part of his drive to cut the costs of politics.

The move has saved little money, weakened Ministers in some departments, and spurred others to work round the reduction. For example, one former adviser in Opposition to Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, has now found a civil service berth in the department.

The business people have been a mixed bag. The Prime Minister won’t want to have his course set for him – as John Major arguably did during periods of his premiership – by the Daily Mail in particular or the media in general. Even more importantly for him, he won’t this to be seen to be happening.

The Rowland move thus set a precedent that the Prime Minister won’t want to follow. Given Rowland’s lack of political experience, it was a strange appointment – and one that he was explicitly warned against making by Lord Ashcroft and Michael Spencer, both former Party treasurers.

The ex-Labour appointments have been less controversial, since figures like Hutton and Milburn have much to contribute and give political cover to the Government. However, the appointment of the last two sets of advisers – and Brittan – in substantial numbers is uncomfortable for both Conservative Ministers and the party’s backbench MPs.

This is because it can be read to suggest that some Ministers aren’t up to the jobs that they do, and that backbench MPs aren’t capable of tackling them either. It can of course be argued that some of the roles – such as Milburn’s social mobility review – are cross-departmental. However, some are not. MPs are bound to ask if none of their number’s capable of serving as Trade Minister.

In short, this week’s events caused short-term trouble for Nick Clegg, who hadn’t been briefed about the Green appointment, and could stir longer-term difficulty for Cameron, whose relations with his Parliamentary Party are strained. The Deputy Prime Minister has reshuffled his office to ensure that he’s better briefed in future. The Prime Minister ought also to take corrective action.

Paul Goodman

HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE LAST WEEK ON CONSERVATIVEHOME

The Daily Mail sinks the Tory Treasurer: “First CCHQ announces that David Rowland will be the new Tory Treasurer. Then the Daily Mail attacks his tax status, his role in an environmental disaster, his style of capitalism, and his private life. A leader in the paper earlier this week warned David Cameron against close association with the wrong kind of wealthy businessman. And a few minutes ago CCHQ issues a press release saying that Mr Rowland will not, after all, become the chief party fundraiser. Big questions need to be asked about CCHQ failing to carry out due diligence on this appointment.” More: http://is.gd/epcbw

The natural Prime Minister: “He isn’t, of course, perfect. His speeches tend to be flat. He appears on the national stage a little too often when interventions by him would be more of an ‘event’ if they were more scarce. He hasn’t loved his own party in the way he has loved his new Coalition partners – although I am increasingly confident that that is being rectified. But there is something natural about Cameron’s style-as-PM. From day two he didn’t do the grand arrival at the front of Number 10 but arrived quietly to work, via the back door. There’s a moderation to his manner and some good humour too.” More: http://is.gd/epco3

The Government is to take the axe to middle class benefits. So it should. “The case for cuts in middle class welfare is unanswerable. There’s no point in taking money from people in tax and giving it back in benefits – minus the sums sliced off to feed the bureaucracy set up to run the system…Sure, better off people shouldn’t be getting welfare payments. But they shouldn’t be paying so much tax, either…The real test for the Coalition isn’t whether or not it should scale back middle class welfare. (It should.) It’s whether it will cut taxes if the deficit’s tamed and growth comes.” More: http://is.gd/ennUs

The price of governing with the Liberal Democrats: “The weakness of the LibDems will mean the Coalition will break down if Cameron does not give more and more concessions to the Liberal Democrats. I called this Montgomerie’s Law. The latest being the appointment of Alan Milburn as social mobility tsar. This is a Clegg appointment, not a Cameron one. The concession to Cable on some sort of graduate tax is another
example of the Leftwards drift.” More: http://is.gd/epcRl

Clegg gives his backwoodsman an opening to attack a Cameron appointment: “Tim’s postulated what he calls Montgomerie’s Law of the Coalition – that it will either drift left under Liberal Democrat pressure, or break up…But pressure from the left of the Coalition will spur counter-pressure from its right – as the budget struggle over capital gains tax indicated. Ministers, trying to negotiate between the two, therefore face what I’ll call Goodman’s Coalition dilemma: which wing of the Coalition can they least afford to offend?” More: http://is.gd/epcZ6

100 days: the Breakneck Coalition’s radicalism: “The Economist has likened Cameron to a radical punk…nearly every Conservative should be able to welcome the government’s ambition. Here are the Coalition’s most ambitious plans: eliminating the deficit, transparent government, making work pay, the end of local authority domination of education, taking the poor out of income tax altogether, elected police chiefs, reducing net immigration to the tens of thousands, abolishing NHS primary care trusts, a cleaner and cheaper politics, a “soft-powered” foreign policy.” More: http://is.gd/epdyj

The CCHQ press office is back and ready to put the summer heat on Labour: “It was good to see last week’s joint press conference from Sayeeda Warsi and Chris Huhne, attacking Labour’s debt legacy. Speaking to the CCHQ press office this morning I’m assured that this fortnight will see an intensive round of attacks on Labour and regular operations thereafter. Good. We cannot let the new Labour leader wriggle away from his responsibility for the mess the Labour Cabinet created (of which he was a part).” More: http://is.gd/epdLa

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