Monday’s reshuffle saw Caroline Spelman become Party Chairman but it also saw many of the powers traditionally associated with her office given to George Osborne. David Cameron has given the man who successfully chaired his 2005 leadership campaign the oversight of General Election planning. George Osborne’s personal and professional closeness to the Tory leader will mean that the two men will make many of the big strategic decisions on major campaign themes and tactics – along with key political advisers Steve Hilton and Andy Coulson (who begins work on Monday).
But if many of the Chairman’s traditional roles have been transferred to the Shadow Chancellor, Caroline Spelman will also have a formidable new power working alongside her at the Millbank headquarters of the party. Lord Ashcroft, who will retain his Deputy Chairman title, will oversee an enlarged team at Central Office that will oversee the party’s target seats campaign, party agents, the William Hague-led efforts to rebuild the party in the north and opinion research. Lord Ashcroft will bring his own staff into CCHQ – including Stephen Gilbert, Gavin Barwell and Kevin Culwick and the existing CCHQ staffers working within the areas of his responsibility will start reporting directly to him. Michael Ashcroft will be at least as powerful as when he was Treasurer during William Hague’s leadership and when the party was heavily in debt.
The other major function at Central Office – fundraising – will partly be Caroline Spelman’s responsibility but Party Treasurer Michael Spencer works directly with the leader on most big donor issues.
A few thoughts on this:
- This is Francis Maude’s work. His final act as Chairman.
- Michael Ashcroft and his coterie of modernisers re-emerge as a very powerful force in the party. Some will welcome this. Others won’t.
- Having all operations under one roof is better than having a freelance campaigns operation of the kind that Lord Ashcroft ran before the last General Election. LA believed that his money could be better spent if he had control of it. As successful as his freelancing was, it was not fully coordinated with the centre.
- The Two Chairmans experiment (Liam Fox and Maurice Saatchi) ran by Michael Howard was not a great success. The dangers associated with having effectively three Chairmen will need to be avoided.