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By Peter Hoskin
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Andy Coulson

You
may have heard, Andy Coulson – that Andy Coulson – has written a “ten-point
masterplan”
for David Cameron in the latest issue of GQ. It was published
today, so I’ve given it a quick read. Much of the advice it contains is sensible,
be it on Mr Cameron’s relationship with his backbenchers (“David should be
better at recognising and supporting the talent he has throughout the party”)
or on the Eds Miliband and Balls (“The Tories must look for divisions and make
the most of them”). But there’s one passage that stands out not just for what
it suggests, but also for how hazardous that suggestion is. After an extended
paean to Samantha Cameron, Mr Coulson writes:

“Sam might
also take a more active part behind the scenes . With the absence of so many
original advisors, she is one of the few people able to see straight to the
heart of a matter and offer a clear, sensible view. This will naturally steer
clear of policy discussion but it shouldn’t stop her joining select strategy
meetings. There are few people in Number Ten with a better eye and she could
play a key role in the winning back of female voters. As a small example Sam
would, I think, agree that when her husband talks about the importance of
family he should be careful to include the words ‘single’ and ‘parent’ each and
every time.”

Mr
Coulson’s enthusiasm for Mrs Cameron is easy to understand. She has, as he
says, “maintained a benign and broadly positive press”. And she has also, “[used]
her position sensibly with charities such as Save The Children and Tickets for
Troops.” In this task, it’s worth noting, she is aided by a special adviser –
the idea being to give her a limited amount of support for what is a carefully
limited role.

Does
Mrs Cameron sometimes go beyond this, and advise her husband on aspects of his
job? Almost certainly, in a sort of informal, over-the-breakfast-table way. We
already know, for instance, that she has a say in the
construction of his major speeches, and that she deployed
her creative talents
in service of the last Conservative manifesto. But to
formalise and expand on this, as Mr Coulson suggests, would be rather risky. After
all, despite his casual separation of “select strategy meetings” and “policy
discussion”, there’s a murkiness to all this. What about those instances when
strategy directs policy, as happens so often? Where are the lines of
accountability drawn in the case of the Prime Minister’s spouse? Such questions
would arise if ever there was a strong sense that Mrs Cameron was
influencing government, but one other would stand above them: who elected her? And
the newspapers would scrutinise her all the more rigorously. Just remember how
Cherie Blair was treated when it was thought she was interfering in matters
governmental.

Such
a set-up wouldn’t just be difficult and damaging for Mrs Cameron, but also for
her husband. He is already accused of presiding over a “chumocracy” in No.10 – what
would it say, to Tory MPs as well as to the public, if he didn’t just number friends among his advisers, but also his wife? No, far better that Mrs
Cameron stick with what she’s doing, which is occupying a difficult, delicate
position, and occupying it well. Strange that a man who is noted for his
streetwise nous should recommend otherwise.

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