How did Theresa May appear so ready, when the moment came, to become Prime Minister? Where did the speeches come from in which she distinguished herself so clearly from her rivals?
In this connection, Nick Timothy’s name is more and more often mentioned. Downing Street last night named him and Fiona Hill as May’s joint chiefs of staff.
Timothy was born and brought up in Birmingham, and represents a proudly provincial conservatism, in which the condition of the striving classes, and of the industries on which they depend, matter a hundred times more than the City of London, whose prosperity can be so important to metropolitan Tories.
His hero is Joe Chamberlain, a self-made man who in the 1870s transformed the government of Birmingham before bursting as a Radical onto the national stage, where his determination to preserve the United Kingdom trumped every other consideration, and led him and his Liberal Unionist followers into alliance with the Conservatives.
May is today visiting Scotland, in order to demonstrate how anxious she is to preserve the Union: a cause close to her own heart, but which she often supports in words drafted for her by Timothy.
In 2012, Timothy published Our Joe: Joseph Chamberlain’s Conservative Legacy, a short account of the great man which ends with Chamberlain’s reflections on how to combat Socialism:
“The policy of resistance, of negation, is not sufficient answer to that Socialist opinion which is growing up among us – that Socialist opinion the objects of which are, after all, worthy of earnest and even favourable consideration… We can only meet Socialism…by pointing out in all true sympathy the impossibility, the impracticability of the methods chosen, and by suggesting other and better methods for securing all that is good in the object sought for.”
The Unionists needed, as Timothy puts it, “to have an unambiguous mission: the betterment of the working classes”. May now says much the same thing.
For more of Timothy’s views, see the 15 extracts from his ConHome column published yesterday on this site – a series which continues today.
His analysis springs from his upbringing near Birmingham. His father worked for a steel and wire company, while his mother did secretarial and pastoral work for a local school.
They had both left school at the age of 14. But from 1991-98, Timothy attended King Edward VI Aston Grammar School for Boys, which he describes as a “transformational” experience, with “extraordinarily brilliant teachers”.
He noticed that if Labour won the 1992 general election, it intended to close his school, and in due course he joined the Conservatives. Having studied politics at Sheffield, the first member of his family to go to university, he joined the Conservative Research Department (CRD).
Before long, he found himself working for Theresa May. In 2007, they published a joint booklet under the sombre and determinedly Eurosceptic title, Restoring Parliamentary Authority: EU Laws and British Scrutiny.
His colleagues in CRD, where before the 2010 general election he was deputy director, recall “Timmy”, as he was known to them, with affection.
In those days, he was clean-shaven, but he has recently grown a beard which makes him look like Lord Salisbury, the great Tory Prime Minister. One former colleague said of this beard: “It’s horrific. I’m very pro his beard in general, but it needs a trim.”
His interests are not limited to politics. They include passionate support for Aston Villa, whose fortunes can be told by the anguish in his face on Monday morning, and a love of the novels of Graham Greene. He lives near the Oval and is also a cricket fan.
He has a younger brother to whom he is very close, and is engaged to be married to Nike, a German lady, in whose honour he is taking German classes.
His colleagues during his various spells in CRD (broken by a year or two working for the Association of British Insurers) included Natalie Evans, who has just become Leader of the House of Lords, and Rachel Wolf, who after a spell at the New Schools Network went as education adviser to the Number Ten Policy Unit, of which she appears to be the only member not sacked by May.
Other people who were around either as special advisers or in a similar capacity included Stephen Parkinson, Fiona Cunningham (now Hill), Alex Dawson, Henry Newman, Simone Finn, Dominic Cummings, Philippa Stroud, Sean Worth and Nick Hillman.
Timothy’s activities were by no means limited to policy, but included deep immersion in campaigning. Among the by-elections on which he worked was Crewe & Nantwich in 2008, the Conservatives’ first gain since Mitchum & Morden in 1982.
After the Conservatives returned to power in 2010, much of the most formidable reforming work was done by determined ministers working with ables SpAd, usually telling Number Ten as little as they could about their activities.
Timothy, Hill and Parkinson all went to work for May at the Home Office. Here a quite different atmosphere prevailed to the more worldly and somehow grander mood at Number Ten.
Timothy, a fluent and industrious drafter of words, played a decisive role in May’s speech in 2013 to the ConHome Victory Rally, in which her wider ambitions became apparent. He was also capable of spotting, amid a mass of papers, problems which could turn out to be serious.
The efficacy of her advisers is one reason for May’s success as Home Secretary, with wider problems such as the need for police reform, or the unfairness of the stop and search law, identified from particular instances of things going wrong.
A ferocious row erupted when Timothy and Parkinson were suspended from the parliamentary candidates’ list for refusing in 2014 to campaign during the Rochester by-election, which they had been advised they were prohibited, as SpAds, from doing.
“They never really forgave Cameron for that,” one source said. The sweeping changes made by May since she became PM are the product of long thought, and in some cases of long antipathy.
At the 2015 general election, Timothy helped to engineer the defeat of Nigel Farage in Thanet South, after which he became director of the New Schools Network: school reform being an essential part of his belief in promoting social mobility
But now he and Hill have been called by May to her side at Number Ten, the Cameroons have been swept from power, a new gang is running the show, and after a gap of many years the words “industrial strategy” have re-entered official government use.