By Tim Montgomerie
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This time last week, reflecting on the forthcoming departure of Steve Hilton, I argued that David Cameron should appoint successful Tory leaders from local government to become his implementers-in-chief. My nomination was Stephen Greenhalgh, the highly successful and outgoing Tory leader of Hammersmith and Fulham. I recommended he followed the model of Boris Johnson who, in appointing first the late Simon Milton and now Eddie Lister, has ensured his objectives are understood by City Hall.
We learn from James Forsyth's Mail on Sunday column (scroll down to third story) that the Prime Minister has made his pick and Will Cavendish, a former Labour policy adviser and a career civil servant for most of the last decade, will run the Number 10 Implementation Unit. Is this really the best person for the job? Does Cameron really not think there is a Conservative out there who could have been a better person to ensure the Government's policies are implemented in spirit as well as to the letter of the law?
Steve Hilton's exit will leave Number 10 dangerously beholden to the civil service. Unlike Brown or Blair, Cameron has not appointed political people to his policy unit but civil servants. Across Whitehall he has imposed a strict ceiling on the number of Special Advisers (SpAds) that Cabinet ministers can have. Because Ed Llewellyn is not a natural Chief of Staff the person effectively running Cameron's Downing Street operation is Cabinet Secretary Jeremy Heywood. Even the political people in Downing Street are hardly conventional Tories. Craig Oliver has no known history of Tory convictions. Llewelyn worked for Chris Patten and Paddy Ashdown. Cameron's new speechwriter was recruited from The Guardian. Andrew Cooper was an uber-moderniser but is probably closer to the mainstream now.
Most ministers have no special political help at all. One Cabinet minister described the lack of political support within his department as "crucifying". It certainly contrasts markedly with what conservative politicians seek and receive in the rest of the Anglosphere. A junior minister told me that they spent a quarter of their time rewriting speeches, letters and position papers because Whitehall mandarins simply didn't understand the politics of his policies. "If they don't understand the policy well enough to write a letter", they fumed, "what hope is there of them implementing it properly?" The problem caused by the low ceiling on SpAd numbers has been evident from very early days of the Coalition. Cameron has been deaf to the calls for extra SpAds (although the Lib Dems were given more). Perhaps this deafness is explained by his own preference to be surrounded by Whitehall bureaucrats – rather than Tory reformers.