David Cameron attacked over foreign policy after second instalment of Lord Ashcroft's biography

Prime Minister criticised by defence chiefs for strategy in Syria and Libya, reports Nigel Morris

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While it did not contain further salacious claims to match “pig-gate”, the second instalment of Lord Ashcroft’s biography of David Cameron in the Daily Mail will have made uncomfortable reading in Downing Street, raising questions over his competence in military matters and providing fresh evidence of his rarified social circle.

The armed forces

The book provides fresh ammunition to critics who claim Mr Cameron is naïve on defence issues and is presiding over the decline of Britain’s military strength.

It says the chief of the defence staff, General Sir David Richards, delivered a wounding put-down when they clashed, telling the Prime Minister that “being in the Combined Cadet Force at Eton” did not qualify him to make decisions on complex military operations. The former Tory Defence Minister, Nicholas Soames, warns the Royal Navy has been “stripped down to nothing”.

Syria and Libya

With Mr Cameron preparing to ask MPs within weeks for support to bomb Isis fighters in Syria, the biography reports anger in the White House over his failed attempt two years ago to win the backing of the Commons for air raids in Syria. An Obama administration insider is quoted saying: “It was one of those astonishing displays of incompetence that sort of leaves you wondering about how… have we all got this far?”

The former Tory chairman, Michael Ancram, likens the military intervention in Libya four years ago to Tony Blair’s disastrous decision to join the US-led invasion of Iraq. He says: “We now have a country which is ungovernable... with vast amounts of weapons from Gaddafi’s arsenal moved south of the border, arming Boko Haram [extremists in Nigeria].”

The ‘Chipping Snorton’ set

The biography paints a detailed picture of the elite group which socialises in west Oxfordshire, where Mr Cameron represents the constituency of Witney. It says their social gatherings have “acquired a reputation for featuring narcotics” which has led to them being dubbed the “Chipping Snorton” set.

It depicts a New Year’s Eve bash in 2008 which is “loud, boozy and perhaps not entirely free of class-A drugs”, although it reveals nothing more damaging than Samantha Cameron smoking a cigarette and “giving it her all” on the dance-floor.

It is also disclosed that Mr Cameron’s brother, Alex, went on holiday with the former Sun editor Rebekah Brooks and her husband, Charlie, during their phone-hacking trial.