It’s time David Cameron started firing people
The Mole: Tory leader needs to stop the growing rumble - are his team competent enough to run the country?
Is it time David Cameron started sacking people? When the only endorsement he gets over the weekend is from the Zimbabwean tyrant Robert Mugabe - "Conservatives are bold. Blair and Brown run away when they see me" - and one of his own frontbench spokesmen is blithely claiming Samantha Cameron might actually vote Labour in the upcoming election, it's time to take drastic action.
If only that was the extent of the bad news for the Conservatives. There's more. Yet another poll - this one by BPIX for the Mail on Sunday - claims the Tory lead over Labour has dropped to two points. And one of the party's senior lobbyists, Peter Bingle, chairman of Bell Pottinger, has emailed friends to say the Tories' election campaign thus far is "shambolic".
It's worth reading Bingle's email in full because he really lays it on the line for Cameron. Here's the gist of it. "In recent weeks," he writes, "I have hinted at being not over-impressed by the Tory campaign since the beginning of the year. The time has now come to be more blunt.
"The Tory campaign is shambolic and unless somebody of quality and experience takes control of it now there is a real danger of the Tories throwing away what should be an inevitable election victory."
Bingle pinpoints Ashcroftgate - the "sleaze from Belize" as he puts it - as a toxic issue. "Didn't David Cameron or his colleagues understand that it should have been sorted out years ago rather than in the middle of a general election campaign?"
Then there's the all-round lack of communication skills. "Nobody knows what the Tory Party stands for any more," says Bingle. "David's speech at Brighton was simply more of the same. Was I inspired by the rhetoric? No. Did it convince me that a Tory government would give power back to individuals and reduce the size of the state? No."
Finally, Bingle has a go at Cameron's team. "Did his Shadow Cabinet give me confidence that they would be able to take control of the government bureaucracy and deliver radical change? Absolutely not... Looking at the two rows of the shadow cabinet scared me. Is that really the best that the Tory Party can deliver?"
So, who should Cameron sack first? The Mole's vote - and Bingle's too, it seemed clear from his email - is for Steve Hilton, chief spin-doctor at Tory HQ. Frankly, if Hilton can play his cards so badly that the only headlines to come out of the weekend papers are "Samantha Cameron could vote Labour" and "Robert Mugabe backs Cameron", then this is a spin doctor not worth having. How Alastair Campbell and Peter Mandelson must be giggling, having patted Gordon on the back for getting through Chilcot unscathed and then packed him onto a flight to Afghanistan to meet the troops.
The Samantha Cameron headline comes courtesy of the Tories' arts spokesman and chief prat, Ed Vaizey. Last week's faux-pas was his U-turn on the BBC's decision to cut 6Music. Vaizey first agreed with the cut before someone persuaded him to actually listen to the station. At which point he declared it "brilliant" and opposed its demise.
Vaizey is supposed to be a good friend of the Camerons. And yet, according to the Mail on Sunday, he is quoted in a TV documentary tonight as saying that Samantha Cameron "might have voted for Blair" in 2005 and could well consider backing Brown in the coming election.
Quite how Cameron could want a man who talks such bollocks to be his arts spokesman, let alone a "friend", is mystifying.
Then there's the more serious issue of William Hague. As Bingle says in his email, it's astounding that Cameron has allowed the Ashcroft tax issue to fester. The fact that he has is really down to Hague, the man who put Ashcroft forward for a peerage and then fought tooth and nail to ensure it happened against the better judgment - we now know - of the Lords scrutiny committee and virtually anywone else in Westminster or Whitehall with their head screwed on.
Hague's judgment was a constant issue during his reign as the Tories' boy leader in the late 90s. And although he seems to have grown up since then, the fact that he has stuck with Ashcroft suggests he hasn't learnt as much as we had hoped. Right now, Cameron needs Hague like he needs a verruca. If he does get into power - which will be no thanks to Hague - he can find himself another Foreign Secretary.
Ashcroft himself has said he will drop out of politics as soon as the election is out of the way. But Cameron needs to distance himself from his paymaster now - for two reasons.
One, Ashcroft sends a message that the Tories are still tied to Big Money - a message the electorate clearly doesn't like - and, two, there's the issue of the Tory MPs he has effectively "bought" by pumping money into marginal seats. A survey by the Sunday Mirror claims 19 Tory MPs have Ashcroft's special funding of marginal seats in 2005 to thank for their jobs.
That's a small army to have owing allegiance to another general when Cameron could - if he manages to win the election at all - be hanging on to power by a margin of only 20 or so seats.
As Peter Mandelson put it in an interview posted yesterday by the Guardian, Ashcroft has Cameron "by the balls". The Tory leader's failure to confront Ashcroft over the past decade exposes the "fundamental weakness" of the Conservative leader and undermines his claim to be a moderniser.
The rumble that's growing - and which Cameron needs to put a stop to - is this: if he Tories' top team are so incompetent they cannot win an election campaign in which they were 18 points ahead less than a year ago, then are they the sort of people we want running the country?
Gordon Brown has raised his game. Cameron hasn't. ·
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