Conservative Intelligence

Conservative Intelligence

This site is currently down for maintenance and should be back soon.

Cameron’s Choice Advisers Comes Under Scrutiny

Last Updated: Friday, August 20th, 2010


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


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:

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:

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:

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:

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:

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:

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:

From the Conservative Intelligence member's site

Miliband’s Threat To Outside Earnings May Drive Tory Mps Over The Edge

Conservative MPs are capable of a wide range of emotions, encompassing the normal human set and then a few extras thrown in. Pride, injured pride, confidence, optimism, crushing depression, panic, fury, resentment, contentment, ambition, resignation, triumph and a host of others are within their repertoire. Even at the best of times, a healthy parliamentary party […]

Cameron Woos Mrs Rochester

“There’s no stunts or backroom deals, just a strong local candidate you can trust.” So wrote David Cameron in a letter sent this week to every voter in Rochester and Strood, where the next UKIP-engineered by-election is to take place towards the end of November.  At the end of it, he made the point again […]

To Respond To Defeat In Clacton, The Tories Will Need A Tougher Immigration Policy

Everyone expected the UKIP candidate, Douglas Carswell, to win in Clacton, but few people thought he would win by the enormous margin of 12,404 votes. An exceptionally rude kick has been administered to David Cameron. It is not much consolation for the Conservatives that a scarcely less rude kick has been administered to Ed Miliband […]

The Tories Leave Birmingham With A New-Found Confidence

No-one knew quite what to expect when the Conservative family gathered in Birmingham on Sunday. Mark Reckless had just delivered the second UKIP defection blow in as many months, and Brooks Newmark’s indiscretions were causing embarrassment (though less existential questions for the party). If anything, observers might have expected a depressed conference mood. Instead, though, […]

21 People To Watch As Next Week’s Conservative Conference Looms

1. Those two MP defectors to UKIP – if, of course, they exist at all.  If so, they will presumably turn up on Saturday evening.  If they don’t, the media will treat this as a further sign that the Party isn’t grown-up, since it talked but didn’t deliver.   2. George Osborne. The Conservative election […]

Will Cameron Go Fast And Slow On Devolution All-Around?

The Prime Minister announced this morning that more devolution for Scotland and reform elsewhere – specifically, action on English votes for English laws – will take place “in tandem” and “at the same pace”.  Draft legislation will be “published by January”. His statement opens up two possible outcomes. The first is that he pushes for […]

Whatever The Result, The Scottish Referendum Has Killed Blair’s Devolution Settlement

The Scottish referendum result is up in the air – polls swing from No to Yes and back again, all within the margin of error. The rush from Westminster to Scotland, not only of the party leaders but of scores of Labour MPs, demonstrates how seriously the prospect of a Yes result is being taken. […]

Two Conservative Scenarios If Scotland Votes Yes

Scenario One: David Cameron does not resign as Prime Minister (or as Conservative leader).  Nor does any member of the Cabinet other than Alistair Carmichael, the Liberal Democrat Scottish Secretary.  The Coalition hangs together.  The Conservative Parliamentary Party rallies round its leader. UKIP’s attempt to provoke an English nationalist backlash comes to nothing.  Perhaps unexpectedly, […]

Cameron’s Ability To Neutralise Opponents Is Brilliantly Illustrated By His Handling Of The New Surveillance Law

David Cameron will always do what the Establishment considers to be prudent.  The Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill, sprung upon the Cabinet on Thursday morning, is a case in point. Cameron has been told by the security services that these powers are needed. He has therefore set out to square Nick Clegg and Ed […]

Why Critical Headlines About Donor Dinners Raise A Smile In Downing Street

In politics, as with so many things, it’s tempting to judge a book by its cover. The personalities, the catchphrases, the emotional and cultural baggage carried by politicians and parties all compete for our attention. They’re important, of course, but they’re only one part of the political process. The showbiz elements often distract people from […]