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.
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.