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When David Cameron moved into Downing Street in 2010, Steve Hilton – shoeless image guru turned footloose Californian Brexit campaigner – moulded a Number 10 team in his own metropolitan, liberal image.
Good Conservative thinkers who had toiled for years in the CCHQ back-room were told there were no jobs. The new Age of Austerity was blamed (“too many SpAds would upset the Daily Mail”) but it was to prove a false economy. A year later when Cameron realised he didn’t have a Conservative policy machine, Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood said he could have one. But because the Tories were in a coalition, they had to staff it with civil servants.
Eventually policy SpAds were drafted in but by then the rot had started to set in. The first Conservative-led government in a political generation was irredeemably urban and predictably sniffy about traditional middle class Conservative values. Business advisors were appointed from the private sector with little knowledge of politics let alone Tory priorities; cool technology specialists claimed that government could be run by data scientists on sofas using Macs and Google Docs; the BBC became a popular hiring ground and Cameron’s EU advisor was Swedish.
Blairite figures such as Andrew Adonis and Peter Mandelson were welcomed in the Treasury court. Indeed, within the strictures of the Coalition, the Government assumed quite a centrist feel to it. All of this was presided over by Cameron’s friend Ed Llewellyn, a super smart foreign policy brain but not a man one would accuse of being in touch with Tory voters in Bury North or Warrington South.
And while this very centrist approach may have helped the Tories to scoop up Liberal Democrat voters by the bucket load, history tells us that oblivion is almost always the fate of coalition junior partners. The Tories’ 2015 General Election victory was largely determined by other key factors; the country had learned to trust and even admire David Cameron (and he is a huge loss); but crucially, voters were horrified by the prospect of Ed Miliband getting into No 10, especially if propped up by the SNP. And of course the campaign was run by non-nonsense strategist Lynton Crosby.
The EU referendum was lost partly because Labour lost control of their own troops. But it was also lost because voters north of Potters Bar took the view that the government was run by a metropolitan elite and they didn’t understand the concerns about immigration.
Theresa May has decided, rightly in my opinion, that a Tory Government ought to be run by Tories. Not such an controversial idea when you think about it but pretty radical if you have got comfortable with the centre-ground consensus politics of the past 19 years.
Bruce Anderson, writing for Reaction, and others purged from government have decided to attack Mrs May’s trusted and fiercely loyal advisors Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill, who embody this crucial shift in mindset. Nick’s roots lie in the industrial Midlands and he is a living example of exactly the sort of social mobility that the Prime Minister is placing at the centre of her domestic agenda. Fiona Hill has campaigned against modern slavery and human trafficking, echoing her boss’s interest in causes that aren’t glamorous but do matter.
And it’s not just the joint Chiefs of Staff. Mrs May has decided that there should be a Tory Head of the Policy Unit – the urbane and thoughtful John Godfrey – and that other key roles in the No 10 political machinery should go to – you guessed it, Tories. One of her key priorities is to keep in close touch with the voluntary party – and she has sent Patrick McLoughlin to CCHQ to help with that task. She certainly doesn’t intend to make the Cameroon mistake of losing a feel for policy thinking in the Parliamentary party – and has given a key co-ordination role to George Freeman.
No-one should underestimate the size and scale of the problems in the Government’s in-tray, in particular the need to forge a national sense of unity. And nobody disputes the size of the Secretary of State for Brexit David Davis’s ego and the potential fault line that runs between him and the new Chancellor Philip Hammond, particularly on the importance of the City and the Single Market.
But forming a Downing Street team more attuned to the voters of middle England than the hipsters of Hoxton is a good place to start.