David Cameron has been leader of the Conservative Party for the best part of ten years, but he has set no personal stamp on the ranks of his Ministers. It’s true that some of them are friends or followers – Greg Barker, Hugo Swire, Andrew Robathan – but there are, strictly speaking, no Cameroons: that’s to say, no band of brothers and sisters set on a consistent ideological project. The junking of the Big Society as a headline idea is evidence of that.
The practicalities of politics usually come first for George Osborne, too, but his favoured ideas are clearer-cut: economic liberalism, intervention abroad (his internationalist heart is for it, but his Treasury head is against), social liberalism. With this sharper profile come favoured allies: Matthew Hancock, Clare Perry, Amber Rudd, Sajid Javid (up to a point), Jo Johnson, who thus faces a clash of loyalties…and the Deputy Chief Whip, Greg Hands.
Cameron and Osborne, who studied Tony Blair and Gordon Brown closely, have learned from their mistakes. The rock on which the present Tory leadership was founded is the alliance of the Prime Minister and Chancellor. Osborne has thus shown himself far better balanced and rounded than a Brown or a Heseltine. Yes, he would like to be Prime Minister. No, he doesn’t seek to undermine the man who presently is. The wagon of Number 11 is yoked to that of Number 10.
None the less, part of the Chancellor’s long-term plan is to push the cause of his allies. And there is a question over whether Cameron has come to believe that, in doing so, his old ally and friend tends to move too far, too fast. Some – I would say many – Conservative MPs have come to believe that being a F.O.G (a “friend of George”) is integral to promotion. It is common to write after each shuffle that the tentacles of the Octopus Chancellor are all over it.
This returns us to Hands. Both James Forsyth in the Mail on Sunday and the Sun on Sunday (£) separately report that the Deputy Chief Whip is not a shoo-in to replace the Chief, Sir George Young, who is leaving the Commons at the end of the Parliament. Hands would be an efficient and effective choice as Chief Whip (though one source told me that he would “need a diplomat as his deputy”). But he would arguably be Osborne’s man, and certainly be seen as so.
Whether or not Hands gets the job is shaping up to be a test of the success of the Chancellor in promoting his allies – and one, too, of how Cameron copes with pleasing his right-hand man on the one hand, and his ever-restive MPs on the other.