11 Mar 2013

Tory modernisers fed up too

That interview with The Times on Saturday by Nick Boles, Planning Minister, was a cry of pain you hear quite a bit from Tory modernisers right now. When he checked with No. 10’s point man on the campaign, Stephen Gilbert, whether he was welcome in Eastleigh he was told it would be better if he stayed away given the Tories’ hard-line against a local housing development in Eastleigh.

“It made me nervous,” he tells The Times, “that they are putting something at the heart of a party campaign that directly contradicted something I had been asked to say and do.”

Who, you might ask, does this ultra-loyal proto-Cameron mean by “they”?

Well, he means the leadership team.

The leadership gave Lynton Crosby free run on the Eastleigh campaign and Mr Crosby ran what Mr Boles feels was “a truly rotten campaign” which (and here’s the clue) “hark(ed) back to Michael Howard’s campaign in 2005” (author: Lynton Crosby) and was “narrow, unappealing and backward-looking – that sounds like UKIP.”

The unease about Mr Crosby’s Eastleigh campaign extends across the arch-modernisers. I mentioned just after the result how “depressed” one minister said he was. The focus in the run up to the Budget is inevitably on the vocal demands from the Tory right for tax cuts but David Cameron shouldn’t under-estimate how fed up some of his earliest adopters are about the strident or “shrill” (Nick Boles’ word) tone of the Tory voice right now. 

As in all vanguardist movements, the true believers in Tory modernisation are greatly out-numbered by the wider membership but Nick Boles’ arguments in The Times, I’m told, closely echo some criticisms David Cameron and his team has been hearing in private from some close allies.

UPDATE:

A couple of people have suggested Lynton Crosby had nothing to do with the Eastleigh by-election.

Lynton Crosby did focus groups and a poll which defined the campaign. It was the biggest single moment of his impact since he signed up for the Tories’ national campaign, insiders tell me.

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