The departure of Sir Mick Davis yesterday leaves not one but two vacancies at the top of CCHQ – as well as being Chief Executive, he served as Treasurer (as well as being a major donor).
As Davis wrote in his farewell letter to donors, ‘our new leader, Boris Johnson, should be free to choose a team at CCHQ who can work together to ensure that this organisation realises its central purpose – a clear and decisive victory at the next General Election.’
Johnson has chosen the Cabinet-level political member of that team by promoting James Cleverly from Deputy Chairman to Chairman of the Party, which means next up will be the two senior officer roles.
These may be backroom jobs, but they are vastly important in restoring the Party’s finances, continuing to modernise its machine, and ensuring it is equipped to fight the General Election that we believe to be imminent. The 2017 election disaster showed how crucial it is to get this right – getting it wrong could make the difference between victory and defeat.
Who will get these roles? The names I’d look out for are Peter Cruddas and Ben Elliot.
The founder of CMC Markets, and an active philanthropist, Cruddas is a former Conservative Party Treasurer – a role that he lost unfairly in 2012 after the Sunday Times published claims about him that he successfully challenged in court. Even after that judgement he was treated shabbily by the Party’s leadership at the time, when he understandably felt he ought to have been reinstated with a heartfelt apology, so a return to CCHQ now might represent a certain degree of belated justice. As well as being a very successful businessman, he was a board member and co-Treasurer of Vote Leave, and a major donor to that campaign. He was one of the largest donors to Boris Johnson’s leadership campaign, too.
Also a successful entrepreneur, Elliot is very active in political and charitable fundraising. He serves as the Honorary Treasurer of the Centre for Policy Studies, was Treasurer of the 2016 Conservative London Mayoral campaign, is a Trustee of the Victoria and Albert Museum, and since January has been the Government’s Food Waste Tsar. He attributed his appointment to that role, by Michael Gove, to the fact that “I’m an irritating f***er. I will go after people and hold them to account. That’s why I think he’s asked me to do it. Most of the people that I work with find me pedantic and irritating to say the least.” It occurs to me that such attributes might well be useful in whipping CCHQ into shape.
Not only are both men very close to Team Johnson, and already established Party donors, but each has extensive experience of setting up and running complex organisations. Both have a reputation for being independent-minded and hard-working, and both have been intimately involved in the functioning of political campaigns for the Conservative Party and Vote Leave.
While they have those things in common, they’re also a contrasting pair in various ways – not least in their upbringing. Cruddas grew up in Shoreditch and left school with no qualifications, while Elliot went to Eton and is the nephew of Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall. They would make an interesting, active team at the top of the Party machine.