Inside the Cameron vote machine
They work together, eat together and holiday together – and they expect to run Britain, reports Michael Savage
Friday 03 July 2009
It is a cast of advisers, tacticians, policy wonks and spin doctors that would not look out of place walking the corridors of President Bartlet's White House in the television drama series The West Wing. These members of the tight-knit group that make up Team Cameron must, for now, satisfy themselves with plotting for power in a building on the outskirts of the parliamentary estate.
But the slick operation has performed so well that insiders say the Tory high command is investigating how to retain the layout of its campaign headquarters should the Tory leader win the election. The creation of a Downing St HQ would mean that George Osborne, the shadow Chancellor, would break from tradition and be freed from the confines of the Treasury in order to retain his influence over the party, which he currently wields from his office two doors down from his leader, in parliament's Norman Shaw South building.
A breakdown of the complex network of movers and shakers behind Cameron's bid to become the next prime minister has been laid bare by a forensic examination of the Conservative's top team carried out by Conservative Intelligence, headed by Tim Montgomerie, the influential editor of the Tory grassroots website ConservativeHome. "They don't just work together. They eat together and holiday together," Mr Montgomerie said. "This is a huge operation. Cameron is surrounded by people he has known for years, which inspires loyalty and friendship over necessarily hiring the very best people. It is a close-knit circle."
Mr Osborne's researchers share an office with the head of strategy, Steve Hilton, who has returned to the fray after a year in the United States, where he continued to consult with Mr Cameron from his home in Santa Clara County, California.
Mr Hilton's influence over the party's rebranding is huge. He spends much of his time planning policies with the party's manifesto writer, Oliver Letwin, who occupies an office three doors down from Mr Cameron. Mr Osborne is also involved in forming policy. "Osborne is very interested in the politics," Mr Montgomerie said. "Staff are so integrated and seamless that they want to carry that on in office."
The Tory leader remains studiously tight-lipped about any talk of "preparing for power", wary of accusations of complacency. "The two offices [of Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne] do work very closely together at the moment," a spokeswoman said, "but in terms of Downing St, we have to get there first."
Mr Cameron remains less confident of victory than many suppose. "David does not take anything for granted," said a shadow cabinet colleague. "He is always telling us that it is not simply enough for voters to reject Labour. He wants them to make a positive vote for the Conservative Party. When he says he wants a mandate, he means it."
Mr Osborne's involvement at the heart of the party's strategic planning has meant that Philip Hammond, the shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, has been handed much of the number crunching, searching for areas in which money can be saved and the inevitable spending cuts will have to come.
The breakdown of Mr Cameron's team shows the importance of loyalty to the Tory leader, with old friends occupying a number of key posts. Andrew Feldman, the Conservative Party's chief executive, met Mr Cameron at Oxford – they both attended Brasenose College. Ed Llewellyn, his chief of staff, worked with him at the Conservative Research Department, as did Kate Fall, his deputy chief of staff. The pair now act as gatekeepers to Mr Cameron, though his visitors no longer have to pass them in order to reach his large, corner office. As part of the fluid nature of the team, they have moved from the room adjoining that of Mr Cameron, used by their predecessors under the leadership of Michael Howard, and now share an office with Mr Hilton and Mr Osborne's advisers.
The Conservatives' director of communications, Andy Coulson, who is also down the hall from Mr Cameron, is the other pivotal figure. It is Mr Coulson who runs through the key lines of the day at an 8.45am meeting with his media team. That is followed by a briefing half an hour later with Mr Cameron, Mr Osborne and a group of their political lieutenants. It comprises of the party chairman, Eric Pickles, the chief whip Patrick McLoughlin, the shadow Foreign secretary and deputy leader, William Hague, the shadow Business secretary, Ken Clarke, and the shadow Home secretary, Chris Grayling. All key staff members reconvene for a decision-making meeting at 4pm.
In terms of keeping the parliamentary party in line, the departure of Mr Cameron's consigliere Andrew MacKay, who resigned amid controversy over his expense claims, was a blow. But Mr Pickles, the ample figure with the undying love of the party's grassroots, has cemented his influence. The odd disastrous television appearance aside (he was booed by the audience of the BBC's Question Time after revealing details of his second home), he has impressed since the reshuffle.
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