All of the old broadsheet newspapers dedicate leading articles to the Conservative Party this morning and all sense that these are testing times for Project Cameron. The Telegraph leader-writers suggest that a new party chairman would help David Cameron to survive these difficult times. They mention William Hague as a chairman "who would certainly cheer party activists". Mr Hague is unlikely to accept what he would probably see as a demotion, however. For him, being Foreign Secretary fits in well with his outside business interests. A good Chairman travels all over the nation – supporting candidates in marginal seats, holding fundraising meetings with donors, giving regional tv interviews and batting for the leader in the media during times of stress. William Hague is very unlikely to want all of that.
If David Cameron can persuade the ex-leader to move then Mr Hague should replace George Osborne as Chancellor. This is any leader’s most important appointment and Mr Hague is more likely to reassure voters that the nation’s finances will be in safe hands than the boyish-looking George Osborne.
Mr Osborne, David Cameron’s closest friend and ally in the shadow cabinet, could move to the foreign affairs portfolio (as previously advocated on this blog) or succeed Francis Maude. Although less popular with activists than David Davis, William Hague or Liam Fox, Mr Osborne will connect much more successfully than Francis Maude who still suffers a net dissatisfaction rating with members of the ConservativeHome Members’ Panel. Mr Maude continues to have a strained relationship with David Cameron’s closest advisers. With George Osborne at CCHQ there would be no doubt that CCHQ would be umbilically attached to the leader’s thinking.
- Liam Fox would undoubtedly be very popular with the grassroots and is well-placed to perform the Willie Whitelaw role but he has been party chairman and will be very reluctant to ‘go back’.
- Chris Grayling is highly regarded by Team Cameron and with George Osborne and David Cameron led the strategy presentation to yesterday morning’s meeting with MPs. Grayling has a huge amount of energy and relishes attacking Labour. Party activists are still getting to know him, however, and it will take time for him to win their trust.
- If David Cameron is looking to appoint a woman chairman, Ann Widdecombe would be an electrifying appointment. She has been a critic of many aspects of Project Cameron and alongside Boris Johnson is a favourite of the constituency rubber chicken circuit. The big problem with this idea is that there is 0.1% chance of Mr Cameron offering her the post and of Miss Widdecombe accepting!
The Telegraph leader also suggests that "a more robust overseer" of the policy review process would be a reassuring appointment. At this stage of the process any change would be inadvisable. A new policy head could easily drop the ball in a handover from Oliver Letwin. Only Mr Letwin is sufficiently close to the details of the imminently-reporting groups to really understand all of the issues. Yesterday’s news that senior CCHQ adviser George Bridges could be working more closely with him to "bombproof" recommendations is welcome. But no change from Oliver for the moment, please.
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