“….some senior Conservatives are privately starting to wonder…”

In case you missed it over the weekend, James Kirkup has done some digging into the workings of No 10 and finds that one of Cameron’s failings is that he’s just not political enough (for his many critics):

Because Mr Cameron’s team is not regularly involved (meddling, some would say) in the daily work of departments, potentially controversial policies can sometimes catch it unawares. Hence the development of a personalised “app” for Mr Cameron’s iPad that will allow him to monitor data and developments from his ministries hour-by-hour. But in the words of one Conservative thinker: “An iPad app is cute, but it’s no substitute for a proper policy unit.”

One senior civil servant says No 10 today lacks an “early warning system” to pre-empt problems: “They were surprised when health went wrong and they’ll be surprised by the next thing that blows up.”

Sometimes extracting information from departments is like pulling teeth. And today’s No 10 isn’t too handy with the pliers; significantly, its current denizens inspire little fear elsewhere in Whitehall.

Another official says he “laughs off” instructions from No 10 in a way that would have been unthinkable under Labour’s command-and-control regime.

Others complain of an ambiguous management structure: who reports to whom? How do the different units and sub-groups relate to one another?

Which leads Kirkup ultimately to conclude that Mr Cameron’s radical intentions fall a long way short of those of many of his followers:

One Conservative who has regular dealings with No 10 says Mr Cameron “failed to professionalise the operation when we went into government. Those in the inner circle are there not on merit but because they are friends.”

Some Conservative MPs are quietly eyeing the role being played in Boris Johnson’s London mayoral campaign by Lynton Crosby, the hard-bitten Australian operative who also served Mr Cameron’s predecessor, Michael Howard. A win for Mr Johnson may lead to calls for Mr Crosby to be given a national role with the Conservatives.

One Conservative minister offers a double-edged overall verdict on the current Cameron operation: “The good news is that they have proved that they can learn from mistakes. The bad news is that there has been a lot for them to learn from recently.”

But in truth, complaints about the Downing Street machine are something of a proxy, a safe way of criticising the Prime Minister himself indirectly. Since Mr Cameron remains unchallenged as party leader, few are willing to air such doubts directly.

But some senior Conservatives are privately starting to wonder if Mr Cameron is not at heart as radical as he claims, whether, rather than transforming the British state, his desire is to conserve it. Perhaps he is not a reformer but a steward.

Mr Cameron himself would surely dispute that, but the state of his office belies such protestations.
For No 10 ultimately reflects the will of its principal occupant. If the Prime Minister’s Office is politically anaemic and bureaucratically underpowered, that is, at least in part, surely because that is how he wants it to be.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty