I would respond to Andrew Gimson's criticism of Grant Shapps on this site yesterday by saying that being Party Chairman is never easy at the best of times (no job worth having is) – but being Party Chairman in coalition is a job dredged up from Hades.
Having received this hospital pass in the current Cabinet, Shapps is wearing the mantle of his position well. Turning up in multiple broadcasting studios, day-after-day, to defend what are quite frankly at times the almost indefensible realities of coalition is not a job for the faint-hearted.
The first requirement for our current Chairman, any Party Chairman, must be to retain a sense of good humour and perspective. Once this has been mastered, the next requirement is to make the case for the Conservative part of the coalition with conviction and enthusiasm, which Shapps does unflinchingly and energetically.
His critics charge him with a lack of gravitas. This is not an analysis I share, but it is a judgement for others to make. However, I would suggest that in this media age what is required is the ability to convey warmth, empathy and patience. These are the traits that over time win people over to the argument. And these arguments are having to be made in extraordinarily difficult and challenging political times.
Now, if I genuinely believed that there was someone readily available who could make the case for our Party better than Shapps then I would join with Gimson in demanding that he be cast to the four winds. But right now, I don’t think that person exists. He or she may exist in the future – but not now. And whatever Shapps’ flaws, he is a talented campaigner, a skilled communicator and to those that know him a man of great personal courage.
Importantly and to his great credit, the Party Chairman has brought, behind the scenes, a sense of much needed urgency to Central Office and to the Party’s creaking campaigning structures. This intervention, along with the recruitment of Lynton Crosby, means that CCHQ now has in place a ruthless focus on winning the next General Election – a focus that Mr Shapps is largely responsible for, and one that has thankfully caught the Prime Minister’s and Chancellor’s attention – attention which at times has been known to wander away on walkabout.
Of course, despite his many strengths, there is room for improvement in the Chairman’s performance. At times he can come across as being a little too relaxed in his dealings with the Parliamentary Party. What works well with Dimbleby and Paxman is not the fare best served to his colleagues. The Chairman must also be more respectful in his dealings with our local Government base. Many of our Councils and Councillors have been far more successful in cutting expenditure than the coalition.
But the credits against the Chairman’s name far outweigh the debits. He has no hint of vanity, wears criticism well and isn’t precious. As Party Chairman, he is there to draw the flak and take the brick bats. He is always going to struggle to be loved in the way that Cecil Parkinson was. But right now he remains the best man for the job.