By Tim Montgomerie
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One of Grant Shapps' first acts as the new Tory Chairman has been to ask for the election countdown clock to be put back on the wall of Conservative HQ. Meeting him yesterday afternoon he told me that there were less than 1,000 days until the next general election (969 actually if its 7th May 2015) and the party machine needed to start getting into battle mode.
Yesterday he announced the team that he hopes will help the party deliver victory for David Cameron. He, Lord Feldman and Mr Cameron made five new appointments:
- Sarah Newton MP will be the new Deputy Chairman, replacing Michael Fallon. Expect to see Sarah becoming an important new public face of the Conservative Party. She will be a national spokesperson for the party but the MP for Truro and Falmouth will also be particularly important in the South West where the party faces important contests with the Liberal Democrats. Read Sarah's reaction to her appointment.
- Alok Sharma has been appointed as Vice Chairman for responsibility for BME Communities. He is expected to work closely with the PM's new PPS, Sam Gyimah who has been thinking through the party's outreach strategy to ethnic minorities for some time.
- Richard Harrington will take on a new role for campaign finance, again as Vice Chairman, looking at how we raise and allocate maximum resources for target seats.
- Bob Neill is a new Vice Chairman for local government. Harry Phibbs wrote about this appointment yesterday.
- Michael Fabricant becomes Vice Chairman for parliamentary campaigning.
Nicola Blackwood (Social Action), Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (International), Alan Lewis (Business) and Andrew Stephenson (Youth) were reappointed as Vice Chairmen. They are all pictured above.
Grant Shapps told ConservativeHome that one of the jobs facing him, Lord Feldman and the new team was to overcome the cynicism that people feel about the tasks currently facing Britain. He suggested that we were in the phase two or three years before the Olympics when people were suspicious about the cost of the Games and wondered whether all of the effort would be worthwhile. It was the whole Conservative Party's task, he said, to use the rest of the parliament to convince people that the road may be hard but the destination of better schools, a benefits system that rewards work and a paying down on the deficit will all be worth it.
The new Tory Chairman will be writing a regular monthly column for ConservativeHome.
PS Can any reader remember the last time that we had a party chairman who has won a seat from Labour?