“….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.


  • lover not a fighter

    Cameron is more High society than Big society !

    And when did High society ever do the heavy lifting in a crisis ?

  • The original article (which, as fast as I see, Mick Fealty didn’t link) is here.

    For Tory balance one should also consider James Forsyth, especially in The Spectator, who has been taking a far friendlier line to Cameron. Here, for example, spitting from Olympian heights on the Daily Teleban tendency:

    The drumbeat of criticism of David Cameron and George Osborne by various Tory MPs, summed up on the front page of today’s Telegraph [i.e. 2nd April], has drawn a reaction from those MPs loyal to the leadership. Kris Hopkins, the founder of the 301 group of Tory MPs, complains that the trouble is being whipped up by a ‘small group of disaffected people’ and that ‘the nature of their criticisms shows that this is about their egos not making the country a better place.’
    At issue here is who speaks for Tory MPs. Hopkins claims that the vast majority of his colleagues are ‘committed and supportive of the Prime Minister and his team’ and that they’re ‘really annoyed that it is the same group of people who keep standing up and claiming to speak for the parliamentary party when they do not’. In a sign that the gloves are coming off in this internal argument, Hopkins warns that if Tory MPs are ‘represented in the media by a bunch of whingers then we’re compromised’. He continues that, while ‘there should be constant challenge to the leadership, it shouldn’t start from the position of dislike for the Prime Minister’.

    Etc., etc.

    You pays your money, and you takes your choice.

    See also today’s Times.

  • Apart from correcting “fast” to “far” in the first sentence above, I’d like to come back for a further bite (and the chance to offer another link).

    Factor in this, from Anthony Wells, addressing the accretion of support to the blazered suburban golfers:

    UKIP have overtaken the Lib Dems for what I think is the first time. In recent weeks YouGov have often shown the Lib Dems and UKIP quite close in voting intention, there have been several instances of but a single point separating them, so in many ways this seemed inevitable sooner or later, if only due to normal random sample error.

    Nevertheless, it highlights a real trend in support. While Lib Dem support has remained pretty much static in recent months there has been an increase in UKIP support. There are various possible reasons for this. One is them becoming a beneficiary of protest votes – in the past people who didn’t like either of the main parties and wanted to cast an anti-establishment “plague upon both your houses” vote may well have voted Lib Dem, now the Lib Dems are a party of government that is hardly an option and UKIP seem to be becoming one of the main beneficiaries. A second reason will be right-wing Conservatives disheartened by the compromises of coalition, a third, more short term cause is probably the granny tax: we’ve seen significant drops in Conservative support and increases in support for UKIP amongst over 60s since the budget and older people have always been by far the most likely group to vote UKIP.

    If, as some claim, UKIP could — on present performance — do for at least a score of so Tory seats, one can appreciate why some Tories, and their constituency associations, are getting antsy.

  • FuturePhysicist

    A steward knows the difference between conserving and stagnating … this is definitely stagnating, if not declining.

    Partial Youth Unemployment is this government’s legacy, the sword of Damocles that brings it into crisis. It can barely avoid a double dip and the social problems where 50-60% of every skill set is just working the tills or the streets. It can no longer keep playing the Blame Game while pushing the Brain Drain.