By Tim Montgomerie
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"Mr Cameron is the coalition’s chairman and public spokesman. Mr Osborne is its chief executive. This is as much Osborne’s Government as Cameron’s. He isn’t just Chancellor of the Exchequer, masterminding the coalition’s deficit and growth strategy. He attends all the daily roundtables at No 10. One source tells me that heads rise and look to him, not Mr Cameron, when anyone makes a controversial statement at those meetings. Mr Osborne — with Mr Cameron, Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander — is one of the so-called Quad that runs the Government. He is also the Conservatives’ chief election strategist. He watches and grooms the new generation of Tory MPs, assessing which will be promoted and which will have to wait. And he is the party’s principal spin doctor — keeping editors and senior columnists in the inside loop more than any of the people who are paid to do that job."
I argue that George Osborne is, on balance, a good thing for the Conservative Party but it can't be sensible to have quite so much power concentrated in just one person's hands even if they're a "political superhero". A party that preaches decentralisation shouldn't be so centralised itself.
The last 48 hours have produced unnecessarily poor headlines for our party (eg here and here) and it might be better if we had one person focused on being Chancellor (and his other responsibilities) and another person who is responsible for the party machine and general election strategy. The person responsible for these things was once the Party Chairman. Think back to the days of Norman Tebbit and Chris Patten – powerful figures who masterminded the Tory machine and fought constantly and effectively for the Tory leader in the media. They were household names.
In my Times piece I set out the criteria for the Party Chairman I'd like David Cameron to appoint:
"Someone who enjoys both his confidence and also Mr Osborne’s. Someone effective in the media. Someone in tune with MPs and the grassroots. Someone who understands the striving class who are, at best, lukewarm about the current Conservative Party. Someone with the brains to devise a plan to win two million more votes. Someone with the courage to question if the current Tory strategy relies too much on the frailties of Ed Miliband as it once relied on the frailties of Gordon Brown."
I suggest Michael Gove is the best person to meet those criteria. I wonder if he's the only person who fits those criteria. The official Tory plan for the next election is far too similar to the one that lost us the last one. We need a new Party Chairman who'll take a root-and-branch look at the party machine and its message. Michael Gove – your Conservative of 2011 – has done a great job at Education and in a ideal world he'd stay put. I think, however, he's laid good foundations already and there are plenty of other competent ministers who could build on the excellent start he's made. So, for me, it's Gove for Chairman.