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Francis Maude

Position: Paymaster General 2010

Last Updated: Friday, September 17th, 2010

The focus of this week’s news has been the coming public spending scaleback.  It won’t change during the Party Conference season.  And it will become more intense still as the spending review decision date of October 20 approaches – not to mention afterwards.  When the talk turns to Government policy and spending reductions, attention usually shifts either to Ministers apparently at odds with some aspect of Government policy, such as Vince Cable and Liam Fox, or to the main Treasury Ministers, and George Osborne and Danny Alexander.

But one of the most crucial players in the Government spending drama is neither a spending Minister nor a Treasury one.  Furthermore, he’s not a Secretary of State, with charge of a Department.  Rather, he’s a Minister of State (though one who has the right to attend Cabinet).  Step forward Francis Maude – scion of an established Conservative family, former Minister, signatory to the Maastricht Treaty, Parliamentary retread, early moderniser…and great survivor.

Maude’s father was Angus Maude – the laconic, clipped-voiced, Tory rightwinger sacked by Edward Heath from his front bench for criticising Party policy.  The younger Maude was first elected to the Commons the best part of 25 years ago, during Margaret Thatcher’s landslide 1983 election victory.  He served his apprenticeship as a Parliamentary Private Secretary and a Whip, before becoming first Consumer Affairs Minister and then Minister for Europe, during the course of which his signature became one of those to grace the Maastricht Treaty.

During the 1992-97 Parliament, that Treaty helped to tear apart the Major Government.  But during this period Maude (who Major, on succeeding Thatcher, had appointed as Financial Secretary to the Treasury) was no longer in the Commons: he had lost his marginal seat of North Warwickshire in the 1992 election.  But five years later he was back representing the very safe Conservative seat of Horsham, one of the rump of Tory MPs remaining after Tony Blair’s landslide victory.

In a Parliamentary Party shorn of much of its talent, Maude’s experience and skills were in demand.  He went straight into the Shadow Cabinet as Shadow Culture Secretary, and then served as Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer – taking on Gordon Brown, then at the height of his powers.  In 1999, he was shunted aside to make way for Michael Portillo, who’d returned to Parliament in a by-election.  Although Maude became Shadow Foreign Secretary – no mean consolation prize – he could have resented the man who replaced him in a pivotal position.

Instead, Maude exercised a political shift that re-defined his position in the Party.  The son of an old-fashioned, socially conservative, buttoned-up high Tory became (without losing his establishment veneer) an outward-looking, socially liberal and tie-less modern Conservative – and a John the Baptist figure to Michael Portillo, seen by some of his supporters as a modernising Messiah.  Maude ran the latter’s Conservative leadership campaign and went into backbench exile after it failed.

From his new vantage, he continued to argue that the Conservatives didn’t, as he put it, “look and sound like modern Britain”.  He was one of Michael Howard’s key backers in the moves to ensure that he succeeded Iain Duncan Smith as Conservative leader before the 2005 election, and was rewarded by Howard with the Party Chairmanship.  One of his main pushes was to raise the number of women and ethnic minority candidates.  After the 2005 election, he remained in the post until David Cameron’s election as leader.

Maude is therefore in a certain sense a founder of the Cameron enterprise, with its modernising flavour and more diverse MPs – as well as, in many Government and Party key posts, establishment personnel.  The Conservative leader decided in Opposition to put Maude’s administrative and business experience to use: he was one of the few former senior Tory Ministers available, with a portfolio of City interests and experience too (having worked between 1992 and 1997 as Managing Director at Morgan Stanley, and as a director of Saloman Brothers).

Maude was therefore put in charge of the Party’s preparations for Government.  From his post in the Cabinet Office, the former head of John Major’s deregulation task force is now charged with increasing transparency and delivering value in Whitehall – slimming the workforce, driving down costs and sitting as a member of George Osborne’s Star Chamber of Ministers to judge his colleagues’ performance on cutting back their Departmental budgets.  He must be at once a wise owl and a ruthless enforcer.

It’s possible to imagine Maude, with his foreign affairs experience, becoming Foreign Secretary were there to be a sudden vacancy.  However, his present post is probably his last – a final front bench task for the Party whose culture he understands and whose servant he’s been.  He’s therefore unlikely to check his actions against the yardstick of possible promotion, or be too concerned by what his colleagues think of him – which helps further to explain his appointment.

So far, he seems, amidst the crowded Cabinet Office, to have carved out a niche for himself as a powerful Whitehall figure.  Forceful, persistent, courteous, and possessing canny political instincts, Maude has the temperament and gifts that help to make up a successful politician.  He also has the mordant sense of human weakness, not to mention his own, that sometimes marks experienced MPs.  Having five children has probably helped him to keep his feet on the ground – where they’ll need to remain during the months to come.

Paul Goodman

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