Word reaches me that Dave may be about to lose his third spin doctor in a row. First Andy Coulson left to spend more time with his Fingertip Guide to the Criminal Law. Then Steve Hilton legged it to California. Now Craig Oliver, Coulson’s replacement, is said to be heading for the chop.
Mr Oliver, once a BBC news chief, enjoys the rare distinction of being completely unknown to the general public and his friends tell me he’s been doing a superb job as the PM’s communications tsar. But Andrew Mitchell changed all that. A few blurted expletives at the porter’s lodge turned into a two-week fiasco for the Tory party so a senior publicist had to take the heat.
Mr Oliver, married to BBC news babe Joanna Gosling, dislikes being thought of as an establishment figure. To flaunt his street credentials he prefers to work with gangsta tunes fed directly into his brain though his beloved set of Dr Dre High-Definition Headphones. These glamorous hearing aids (which retail for £249.99, although they were available more cheaply during the riots) have earned him the nickname Craig Dre. But dismissal might yet be the making of ‘the No. 10 rapper’. He’s been seen scribbling down notes and quotes from top politicians in an unofficial diary. And there’ll be no shortage of bidders for his account of life inside the coalition. One ambitious publisher has already pencilled in next year’s Tory conference for the launch date.
Meanwhile, the hunt for yet another spin doctor to Downing Street is said to be a little sluggish. ‘They’ll probably make do with some hack from the tabloids,’ my source tells me. ‘It’s only a temporary position, after all.’
If even Craig Dre abandons ship, Dave will need all the friends he can get. But they may be in short supply. His rudeness is the stuff of legend. A typical tale comes from a backbencher who drove Dave around his marginal constituency during the 2005 election. The two men bonded during the day’s campaigning but at the moment of farewell, the MP offered Dave a handshake and found his fingers closing on emptiness. Cameron had gone, without even a word. No thank-you, no tutty-bye. Nothing.
A photographer who worked for the Tories for years tells me that Dave ‘rarely uttered even a hello. And it wasn’t just me. Cameron never talked to any of his staff. He never asked about their lives. If there was a lull, or a car-ride, he wouldn’t engage with anyone who wasn’t a confidant. He’d read adventure stories.’ The photographer adds significantly: ‘Boris wasn’t like that.’
Dave’s Trappist habits date back to his days as a backbencher when he regularly shared lifts with fellow MPs. He seldom spoke a word to them. ‘Like a snooty ostrich,’ is how one describes him, ‘with its head up its arse. If you’re not important, he really can’t see you.’
Steerpike has a female chum who works in the Palace of Westminster and she finds it hard to look at a photograph of Cameron without a fit of rage. ‘I can’t stand him. No one can. He’s the rudest man in the House of Commons.’ Vanity is said to be another abiding flaw. Anxieties about his hair dominate his pre-speech preparations, and he’s said to spend most of Wednesday morning sculpting a perfect quiff in the mirror while gag-writers work on his ripostes for PMQs. This may be an exaggeration. But it’s curious that Commons staff love repeating it.
Barclays is eager to move on from the Bob Diamond era. ‘It’s an all-British affair these days,’ is how one top manager described the new regime. The bank hosted a dress-down drinks party at its Mayfair offices last week where guests were asked to remove their ties at the door. Insiders recognised this as a two-fingered salute to the recently departed Mr Diamond, who liked to sport lime-green ties and whose neckwear was often imitated by senior managers. Bob enjoyed telling the toadies around him that his shrill emerald tie was a symbol of his laid-back style and his personal mantra, ‘LIME’, or ‘Life Made Easy’. One critic suggested a different interpretation. ‘Under Bob, it meant Libor Is My Emolument.’
To Birmingham — in the beating heart of modern Britain — where the Tories are celebrating their annual champagne drought. After the horrors of plebgate, senior figures hope to use the conference to highlight the party’s enlightened side. So it’s reassuring to know that some things never change. I’m told that a group of aesthetically minded Conservative MPs like to gather each morning in the Commons tea-room to examine the Sun’s page 3 stunnah and to pass comment on the shapeliness of her charms. Any members from the new intake? I asked my informant. No, I was assured, it’s strictly the old guard. A fascinating snapshot of modern Conservatism in action.
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated 6 October 2012