By Tim Montgomerie
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Fascinating scoop from James Forsyth in the Mail on Sunday. The Spectator's Political Editor reveals that David Cameron gathered together a special 'secret seven' group of Conservative Cabinet ministers before the recent Lords vote and rebellion. The meeting may turn out to be a one off but let us hope not. It is an encouraging sign that the Tory leader may be enlarging his advisory circle which up until now has been built around (1) an ultra-loyalist kitchen cabinet, including many lifetime friends; (2) a very special bilateral relationship with George Osborne; (3) more-or-less monthly dinners with William Hague and Mr Osborne and; (4) most significantly, via The Quad – where the Liberal Democrats are as well represented as Conservatives.
The seven members are, in alphabetical order:
- Ken Clarke
- Iain Duncan Smith
- Michael Gove
- William Hague
- Philip Hammond
- Theresa May
- George Osborne
James Forsyth is particularly taken with the inclusion of IDS and Clarke:
"Duncan Smith’s presence was particularly significant as he and Cameron have not always had the easiest of relationships. Unlike many of his Cabinet colleagues, he has been prepared to tell the Prime Minister where he thinks he is going wrong… Also present was Ken Clarke, a man who has served in the Cabinets of the past three Conservative Prime Ministers. Clarke’s presence was a clear indication that there will be no attempt to pension off this 72-year-old in the coming reshuffle."
One insider tells me that the penny may have dropped in Number 10 that he needs better party management. His recent meeting with the new 1922 backbench committee was, I learn, more polite than the meetings with the old membership but that seems to be the only affect of the 'clear-out'. The same issues were raised and because they were raised (a) with a little more poiliteness and (b) by a group of MPs that were effectively installed by the modernising 301 Group those concerns now have more force. Only George Hollingbery is said to be reliably Cameroon on all issues. ConservativeHome research before the election (eg here, here and here) predicted that the Class of 2010 would be independent-minded and Thatcherite by disposition. All experience is confirming that prediction.