7 Oct 2009

Dannatt, not champagne, gives Tories the biggest conference hiccup

There have been few hiccups at this conference. The least important is probably David Cameron quaffing champagne, caught on camera (you can see below how The Mirror tried to pull a champagne stunt on the shadow chancellor this morning by serving him a breakfast glass of fizz while he was giving an interview).

The leadership would probably regard the Boris Johnson escapade on Monday as the worst hiccup – the Mayor of London challenging the emerging leadership line that there will not be a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty if it has been ratified and throwing in a few other off-message grenades before disappearing back to London.

I wonder though if we have just seen the worst one. General Sir Richard Dannatt has been much in the news in the last few days – widely available to media as an independent critic of the government’s defence policy and of the prime minister himself.

It was a carefully choreographed build-up to what was going to be a grand unveiling in David Cameron’s leadership speech tomorrow of Dannatt’s role as a new adviser to the party, a Conservative peer and a future minister if the Tories get elected (though no one’s confirming that bit in case it looks too presumptuous).

So for some of the time (who knows how long at the moment – there are many versions of this) that General Dannatt has been taken on trust as an independent objective witness to military events he has been planning to announce his decision to enter politics, become a spokesperson for the main opposition party which hopes to bring down the Prime Minister.

He was much more use to David Cameron as an independent voice. Now we know that he is not independent his future and past utterances are downgraded.

It looks as though he has been raising his profile, taking part in a choreographed build-up to a Conservative party leader’s speech while he remains a serving employee of the Ministry of Defence (he leaves on 28 October). Some might think that a bit rum.

In judgement terms, the Conservatives have blown an enormous asset, a floating independent critic of the government and turned him into a party animal whose past and future words will now be looked at in a very different light.

The fact that Shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling, caught off guard by the BBC, misunderstood whose government Dannatt might be joining and dismissed the move as a “gimmick” is the icing on the cake.

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On Thursday Channel 4 News online will be providing extended live coverage of David Cameron’s speech to the Conservative conference, including film extracts, expert analysis and Twitter commentary.

To watch and contribute, go to www.channel4.com/news from midday on 8 October.

Tweets by @garygibbonblog

6 reader comments

  1. Dontmindme says:

    Hogwash. That really is looking for a problem which is not there, because you feel the need to find one.

    Besides, are you really saying you would prefer the Tories and Sir Richard to lie and say he is not one of them, when in fact he is?

    Personally I am glad that someone with his in depth knowledge of the facts on the ground is there to ‘tell it like it is’ to DC.

    It does not help politics in general when Journos such as yourself try and be too clever by half and suggest that what we really need is for politicians to behave like the devious so-and-so stereotypes you like to critisize.

    Grayling looks a bit stupid I agree (he has already said as much), but really is this the end of civilisation as we know it? I think not.

  2. Andrew Dundas says:

    Army High Command mis-advised government about their Helmand adventure. They got their ‘intelligence’ completely wrong. They told Ministers that only lightly armed engineers were needed for re-building Afghan infrastructures damaged by 2 decades of war. Instead we were faced by massive fire-fights from a determined Taliban. Then the Tory aspirant Darrant complained loudly that ministers hadn’t supplied the right kit for the battles his lot said we wouldn’t face.
    No wonder these generals aren’t trusted. Gen Eisenhower warned us to beware of the blandishments of the ‘military-industrial’ complex. Now true!!

  3. Ray Turner says:

    I’ve been rather disinterested in the Tory Conference so far. Seems to be going quite well from the snippets that I’ve caught and its all very predicatable, but after three weeks I just want the Conference season to come to an end. I’ve had enough of all the arguments and counter-arguments now. I know what the score is…

    So I’d quite like the pre-election silly-season to come to end too. Dragging it out until the last possible moment surely cannot be good for the UK. Somebody needs to be given the mandate to get on with job and sort things out. The sooner the better really…

  4. adrian clarke says:

    after a week of labours lies and refusal to accept we are in a mess ,its great to see a party committed to putting the economy right and britain back on its feet. It is a pity channel 4 so called news reporters cannot forget their left wing bias

  5. Carly says:

    Gary it’s dog eat dog. This is politics it’s a ruthless business. If anyone in the military supported the Labour party I am sure we would never hear the end of it. Why can’t you ever give the Tories credit where it is due?

  6. Ray Turner says:

    BTW. I’ve just blogged about my conclusions at the end of this three week conference season. You may not agree and that’s fine. I’ve just written it as I see it…

Comments are closed.