James Forsyth

Tensions in the Cameron circle over election strategy

Tensions in the Cameron circle over election strategy
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There is a fascinating glimpse at the tensions inside the top echelons of the Conservative party in The Times today. Francis Elliott reports that Steve Hilton is trying to veto the appointment of James O’Shaugnessy, head of policy for the party, as head of the Downing Street policy unit should the Tories win the election. Francis writes that tensions between Hilton and O’Shaugnessy have been exacerbated by disputes about what should go in the initial slice of the Tory manifesto which will be published on Monday.

O’Shaugnessy is one of politics' nice guys. But he has been the focus of negative briefing in recent months. Back in early September, I was told that Hilton was casting around for other candidates for the job in government. Then James was mentioned in a Tara Hamilton-Miller piece in the Telegraph later that month about ‘How cool are David Cameron’s Conservatives?’ which led to a certain amount of snipping. As the party struggled a bit between conference and Christmas, O’Shaugnessy became a bit of a scapegopat. Much of the problem is that O'Shaugnessy appointment in September 2007 was part of the attempt to have Steve Hilton remain in overall charge of policy direction but not doing the everyday nuts and bolts. This enabled Hilton to stay focused on the big picture but also to go to California which he did in 2008. Perhaps, though, this arrangement led to the director of policy appointment not been treated as the high-level one that it is.   

However, O’Shaugnessy is not the only person who has had arguments with Hilton about election strategy.  George Osborne and Hilton have also clashed. Hilton, as Cameron’s speech today showed, wants to run a campaign high on vision, presenting Cameron as both a unifying figure and the ‘change we need.’ (Yes, they really are intent on casting Cameron as Britain's Obama - more on that another time). While Osborne thinks that the Tories need to have more of a retail offer, things to sell on the doorstep.

Osborne and Hilton are two of the biggest influences on Cameron politically and the men jointly responsible for winning him the leadership. It will be fascinating to see which of their advice he takes.