Tories split over whether to hire Lynton Crosby to run election
Editor and proprietor of ConservativeHome at odds over the contentious Aussie spin doctor
A STORM of Hurricane Sandy proportions has hit the Tory grassroots website ConservativeHome over whether David Cameron should hire hard-hitting Aussie strategist Lynton Crosby to run the Conservative campaign for the next general election.
Tim Montgomerie, ConservativeHome editor, is passionately pro-Crosby and on Sunday accused Daily Telegraph columnist Peter Oborne of writing "nonsense on stilts" about the so-called "Wizard of Oz".
Oborne had claimed that Cameron would be abandoning all his modernising principles for the Conservative Party if he hired Crosby, who ran a right-wing crime and immigration campaign for Michael Howard in 2005.
Montgomerie has used his blog to champion Crosby - who successfully ran Boris Johnson's two campaigns for London Mayor - saying he should be hired as quickly as possible at whatever the cost. "Oborne's column today was nonsense on stilts from beginning to end," he wrote. "I hope Number 10 filed it in the waste paper bin where it belonged."
So, imagine Montgomerie's embarrassment when the man who funds ConservativeHome, the former deputy party chairman Lord Ashcroft, decided to write a column for his website... and used it to join Oborne in attacking Crosby.
Ashcroft wrote: "I believe it would be a mistake to hire Lynton Crosby. Not because it would lead to a re-run of the immigration-dominated 2005 campaign (as argued in the Sunday Telegraph by my old friend Peter Oborne, who, not for the first time, has come to the right conclusion but for the wrong reason), but because I do not think he is needed and would become a distracting influence.
"Cameron and Osborne and their team have started to develop the strategy; Grant Shapps and the incomparable Stephen Gilbert will see that it is put into effect on the ground.
"Crosby will have his own views about what the message should be – hence his reported determination to control the party's polling, not just implement the campaign – and how things should be done in the field. Far from ensuring a single strong manager, this is a recipe for the kind of conflict and confusion that dogged the 2010 campaign and helped cost us the majority we could have won."
Could this herald the parting of the ways for Montgomerie and ConservativeHome, which has become a sharp thorn in Cameron's side?
Montgomerie certainly doesn't think so. He simply tweeted this morning: "Lord Ashcroft says do NOT hire Lynton Crosby" - using the hashtag EditorsAndProprietorsDoNotAlwaysAgree.
It remains to be seen whether Ashcroft agrees with Montgomerie that editors and proprietors do not always have to agree.
Either way, it leaves Cameron with a dilemma.
At the moment, his Chancellor, George Osborne is clinging to his role as election strategist, in addition to trying to get Britain out of recession. (Which explains why Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, uses every opportunity at Prime Minister's Questions to call Osborne a "part-time Chancellor".)
But the Mole hears that Crosby won't do the job if Osborne continues to hang on to his election strategy role – the Aussie doesn't want Osborne acting like a back-seat driver.
Many senior Tory MPs agree with Tim Montgomerie that Cameron should hire Crosby and sack Osborne as campaign supremo. One Tory minister told the Mole the other day: "Osborne is a disaster. Crosby can't work with Osborne. Cameron has a straight choice – he should sack Osborne and hire Crosby, and do it now."
Of course, there's another choice – don't hire Lynton Crosbie, don't upset George Osborne and do risk losing the next election. Over to you, Dave.