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The Ying Yang and the Bing Bang inside Number Ten

Last Updated: Friday, November 26th, 2010

 Blogs are increasingly speculating about a power struggle inside Downing Street. Not between David Cameron and Nick Clegg but between David Cameron’s advisors. Steve Hilton and Andy Coulson have always represented the ying and yang of the Cameron project.

In opposition a Quartet directed the Tories’ tactics and strategy; Cameron, Osborne, Hilton and Coulson.

Hilton was at Cameron’s side long before day one of his leadership. Like many of Cameron’s closest aides, they were friends in the early 1990s. The t-shirt wearing, cycling, former Green voter has given Cameron its modernising strategy. Its greenery, its gay friendliness, its concern for the poor, its civil libertarianism. Without the Hilton-ised Conservatism, formally entitled Liberal Conservatism, Nick Clegg could never have entertained the possibility of entering into government with Cameron. It didn’t win a majority for the Conservative Party, and looked bereft when the economic crisis struck, but it did bring about today’s possibility of a right-left realignment of UK politics.

Coulson only joined Cameron in mid 2007 when Hiltonism had taken the Conservative Party to the precipice of electoral disaster. Gordon Brown entered Number 10 and, hard though it is to remember now, was headily popular. Brown entertained the possibility of a honeymoon election and spent £1 million of scarce Labour funds preparing for it. Coulson and George Osborne pulled the party back from that precipice with a “cast-iron” promise to Sun readers of a vote on the Lisbon Treaty, a tough message on crime in “broken Britain” and, most importantly, a promise to abolish inheritance tax for all but millionaires.

The tensions between Cameron’s two top advisers are real, often incredibly productive but also, good sources have it, close to boiling point.

The consequences for the effectiveness of government are limited at the moment. Unlike in opposition, the leader’s team are not the true centre of power. Power now resides throughout Whitehall, particularly at the Treasury where George Osborne has built up a team that is functioning as smoothly and collegiately as Number 10 is not.

Talk to the people close to the other big, reforming ministries – Education, Work & Pensions, Local Government, Health – and you find ministers getting on with the job. Insofar as they liaise with Downing Street they liaise with Oliver Letwin and Francis Maude, the two hugely powerful ministers who run the machine, bomb-proofing draft legislation and ensuring the yellow half of the Coalition is happy.

Cameron’s operation is operating at 80%; its weaknesses disguised by Cameron’s extraordinarily able personal performance as Prime Minister. At some point, however, the dysfunctionality in the kitchen cabinet needs to be cured. Cameron’s speeches need to be better. He needs more friends in the press, parliamentary party and conservative movement – where loyalty is a mile wide but an inch deep. He also needs to think about the second half of this parliament and beyond. No one at present, other than Letwin, is really thinking of that. His operation will also be tested when big tests emerge. The health reforms, for example, which flourish in Andrew Lansley’s head but not yet on paper. Eric Pickles’ confrontationalism with local councils. And, tensions with the Liberal Democrats on, for example, control orders and wider issues of liberty, immigration and sovereignty. Cameron needs his team at something much closer to 100% harmony for then.

Tim Montgomerie

 

HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE LAST WEEK ON CONSERVATIVEHOME

 

Downing Street was right to force Lord Young’s resignation: “The “so-called recession” is about to become real for nearly all of us as Cameron, Clegg and Osborne clear up the mess they inherited. In 1992 the Conservative Party ran posters all over the country that warned of a double whammy if Labour’s Neil Kinnock was elected Prime Minister. Printed on one of the boxing gloves on that poster was a warning about higher taxes. On the other red glove was a warning of higher prices. Britain, today, isn’t facing a double whammy but a quadruple whammy. Higher taxes. Higher prices. Higher mortgage rates. And cuts in public services.” – Tim Montgomerie.  More: http://is.gd/hP4Br

Can the Government actually make people happier?  “But if the Government desires to create policies that promote citizen wellbeing, it is important to distinguish between a citizen’s transient emotional happiness and their deeper cognition of what truly would make for a fulfilled life. While being joyful and appreciating one’s own environmental setting is important for wellbeing, what translates moments of emotional peaks to long lasting life satisfaction is a person’s own ability to create happiness for themselves.  For, it is not simply being happy that matters, but the ability for each and every citizen to live in a society that allows them to pursue their own happiness.” – Jiehae Choi and Nathan Gamester.  More: http://is.gd/hP6Et

How the Civil Service changed history and aided the formation of the Coalition: “The codification of the existing conventions, with the Cabinet Secretary as ‘guardian’ or ‘referee’ of those conventions in a hung parliament, raises interesting questions. Did Gordon Brown, whose personal unpopularity had been a major factor in Labour’s worst post-war election performance with the exception of 1983, have the same ‘entitlement’ to remain in office and seek the confidence of the House of Commons as Edward Heath, who was only four seats behind Labour in February 1974 and who had won the popular vote? Will the codification of unwritten, constitutional conventions lead to a loss of flexibility and transfer the spotlight from the responsibility of politicians to the interpretations of bureaucrats?” – Rob Wilson MP.  More: http://is.gd/hPanR

What can the experience of Britain’s Conservative Party teach Republicans as they prepare to fight Obama in 2012?: Build a broader appeal, not a radically different Party…Don’t take any issues off the table…Detoxification of the brand (candidates…conservation…compassion…civil liberties)…Build new think tanks to ensure that modernisation is Conservative…Tax cuts are still a potent weapon…Lovebomb enemies…Build a big tent…Ruthless targeting…Learn the lessons of Cameron’s mistakes…”What Cameron’s changes to the party did succeed in doing, however, was make the Coalition with Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats possible. The more centrist Conservative Party under Cameron became acceptable as partners. This possibility of bipartisanship might be relevant to the GOP despite the big differences between the electoral systems of Britain and America.” – Tim Montgomerie

Tory Associations withhold money from CCHQ in protest at HiSpeed Rail plans: “News has just reached me that one of Britain’s most prosperous Conservative Associations – Chesham & Amersham (represented by Welsh Secretary Cheryl Gillan) – has told CCHQ that they will be leaving the ‘Premier League of Associations’ and ending, therefore, their commitment to contribute £10,000pa to central funds as part of that League. My source predicted that all Buckinghamshire Tory Associations might do the same, in protest at Coalition plans to build a £17bn High-Speed Rail Link (HS2) through the county. The feeling is that private meetings with Transport Secretary Philip Hammond and Party Chairman Sayeeda Warsi have been fruitless. Conversations with Philip Hammond were described as a “dialogue of the deaf”.” – Tim Montgomerie. More: http://is.gd/hPdAd

The martyrdom of Michael Gove: “Rather, Gove has, I think, to meet two main challenges.  The first is the establishment of a significant number of Free Schools (there’s no consensus yet about how many).  The second is better exam results… He may, of course, be shuffled onwards and upwards in due course, leaving these problems for his successor.  But David Cameron, to his credit, doesn’t like reshuffles, having grasped long ago that they cause more pain than gain.  And Gove, to his, shows no particular sign of wanting to move on: he may well be there for the duration.  In which case, he faces a potential car crash – namely, the setting-up of a relatively small number of Free Schools (possibly) and worse exam results (almost certainly).  Anyone who believes that the papers, faced with the latter, will blame anyone other than Gove misunderstands their collective hysteria, sensationalism, rapacity and limited attention span.” – Paul Goodman.  More: http://is.gd/hPcud

Conservatives should not give Ed Miliband the attention he craves: “A pre-emptive strike would be counterproductive, but when challenged by the Opposition we can make a legitimate argument that goes with the grain of public sentiment, both on the big issue of the day and on Labour’s current irrelevance.  It also has the virtue of being true:  The government is doing its best to bring down the deficit and get the economy back on track.  That means making some tough decisions, but unfortunately Labour doesn’t seem to understand that there is even a problem.  Mr Miliband said that he would not simply oppose every cut, but so far that is exactly what he has done.  We look forward to him making a positive contribution – but he won’t be able to do so until Labour face up to reality.  Meanwhile, we are getting on with the job.” – Lord Ashcroft.  More: http://is.gd/hPcZG

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