The Daily Telegraph
Let’s prepare for next election, says Dowden
Minster switched from culture role to Tory party co-chairman wants MPS to get ready to fight for votes
CONSERVATIVE Party staff were last night told by Oliver Dowden, the new co-chairman, to start preparing for a general election which could come as soon as 20 months from now.
Oliver Dowden, who was moved from culture secretary in yesterday’s Cabinet reshuffle, walked into Tory HQ in Matthew Parker Street in Westminster shortly after leaving Downing Street and addressed party workers.
“You can’t fatten a pig on market day,” he said, days after MPS started debating a law to scrap a requirement to hold elections every five years.
“It’s time to go to our offices and prepare for the next election.”
And, in a nod to his humble background as the son of a retail worker, he told staff: “I feel like the kid that was stacking the shelves and now has the privilege of running the shop.”
Mr Dowden’s priority will be to ensure that the party’s election organisation is ready for the expected general election, which must be held before the end of 2024.
The working assumption inside No 10 is that Mr Johnson will go to the country in May or June 2024.
However, The Daily Telegraph understands he is also eyeing up the option to go a year earlier – May or June 2023.
This may explain why Mr Dowden, whose experience in the party stretches back to the Conservative Research Department nearly two decades ago, has been appointed, given his knowledge of the party’s structure.
Mr Dowden, whose official government role is as a Cabinet Office minister and, as such, will work closely with Ben Elliot, his co-chairman, was largely unknown before he was given the plum culture role in February last year.
However, since then he has won plaudits for the way he negotiated the £1.6 billion bailout for the culture sector at the height of the Covid crisis. Mr Dowden also protected Boris Johnson from the fallout over top football clubs’ failed European super league by “playing a blinder”, according to friends.
Mr Dowden also delighted the party’s base by taking the fight to the heritage sector in the so-called “culture wars”, criticising the National Trust’s controversial report which linked its properties with the proceeds from slavery. One ally said: “People see him as a dull ‘backroom boy’ when, actually, he is quite fun. He is able to keep a healthy sense of perspective.”
He grew up in Bricket Wood, Herts, and went to Parmiter’s School, a state secondary school near Watford, before reading law at Cambridge University.
After teaching English in Japan, he dabbled briefly in lobbying before, in 2004, he became head of the political section within the Conservative Research Department.
Mr Dowden picked up the nickname “Olive” at the department – after a misspelt sign-off on an email – which he carried with good humour into Downing Street when David Cameron was prime minister.
Mr Dowden – who is married with two children and still commutes to work in London from his family home near St Albans – entered Parliament as MP for Hertsmere in 2015, defeating Rishi Sunak – later to become Chancellor – in the selection process.
In the 2016 EU referendum, he was a Remainer but, in the immediate aftermath, he supported Mr Johnson for the leadership, which infuriated Theresa May’s team.
In the summer of 2019, Mr Dowden, Mr Sunak and Robert Jenrick interviewed Mr Johnson for an hour at Mr Jenrick’s home, after which they put their names to a joint article supporting him as the next Tory leader.
Mr Dowden, 43, still advises Mr Johnson on debate lines ahead of Prime Minister’s Questions in the Commons every Wednesday, as he did for the three previous Tory leaders: Mrs May, Mr Cameron and Lord Howard of Lymphne.
In a message on Twitter last night, Mr Dowden said he was looking forward to meeting activists at the party conference in Manchester in a fortnight’s time, adding: “I can’t wait to support the Conservative family to level up the country and build back better.”
‘You can’t fatten a pig on market day. It’s time to go to our offices and prepare for the next election’