The Scottish Mail on Sunday

Ruth­less en­forcers who thought they knew bet­ter than ‘out-of-touch toffs’


TWO short years ago David Cameron bounded up the stairs of Con­ser­va­tive Cen­tral Of­fice, into the cam­paign room and was greeted with deaf­en­ing cheers. The room was crammed and ac­tivists stood on desks, ea­ger to catch a glimpse of the man who had achieved what the com­men­tariat and poll­sters had in­sisted was im­pos­si­ble: win­ning an over­all ma­jor­ity.

Theresa May en­tered the same build­ing last Fri­day morn­ing, also hav­ing achieved what was said to be im­pos­si­ble: los­ing Cameron’s over­all ma­jor­ity. Un­sur­pris­ingly, the re­ac­tion was muted.

In the fol­low­ing hours two peo­ple were put squarely in the frame and were forced out: her joint chiefs of staff, Nick Ti­mothy and Fiona Hill.

As they were, a few peo­ple con­tacted me to say I must be feel­ing schaden­freude – plea­sure at their down­fall. But on see­ing their Elec­tion cam­paign re­duced to ashes and Theresa May hum­bled, I felt any­thing but pleased.

The feel­ing was some­thing closer to sad­ness. I could see at a cru­cial time the coun­try would now face real in­sta­bil­ity. I’d wanted to be­lieve Theresa May could suc­ceed in her mis­sion to pro­vide ‘strong and sta­ble govern­ment’, be­cause this coun­try de­serves to suc­ceed in volatile times. There was a lit­tle anger too – how had the Con­ser­va­tive Party al­lowed th­ese two peo­ple with such ques­tion­able judg­ment to in­flu­ence so much and get it so wrong?

While I was in No 10 and Fiona Hill and Nick Ti­mothy were at the Home Of­fice, I had con­sis­tently warned pri­vately about their meth­ods. Civil ser­vants and po­lit­i­cal ad­vis­ers who at­tempted to deal with them were ei­ther ig­nored, re­ceived abu­sive texts, or briefed against – anony­mously of course – in the news­pa­pers.

Ev­ery­thing came to a head when they were in­formed that Michael Gove had pub­licly ques­tioned their boss’s ap­proach to deal­ing with Is­lamists. In­stead of tak­ing the high ground and in­sist­ing pri­vately that the Ed­u­ca­tion Sec­re­tary be ad­mon­ished, they briefed The Times that he was un­fit as a Min­is­ter.

Hours later they in­sisted a scathing let­ter Theresa May had writ­ten to Mr Gove was pub­lished on the Home Of­fice twit­ter feed – a se­ri­ous breach of pro­to­col. Enough was enough and David Cameron in­sisted Fiona Hill had to go. In­stead of ac­cept­ing this, Hill and Ti­mothy at­tempted to fight back, claim­ing they would re­lease a dossier against se­nior fig­ures in No10 if Hill was forced out. Their bluff was called. No dossier ar­rived and af­ter days of fight­ing, Fiona Hill was made to stand down. Two years later she was back as the Prime Min­is­ter’s chief of staff.

The pat­tern con­tin­ued when David Cameron re­signed be­cause of Brexit and the Home Sec­re­tary be­came Prime Min­is­ter. Her team seemed to take plea­sure in sack­ing any­one who had been close to us. And, to put it mildly, they were care­less with my for­mer boss’s rep­u­ta­tion and legacy, ap­pear­ing to go out of their way to ques­tion him, his peo­ple and the things they stood for. Af­ter we left No10, the pat­tern con­tin­ued, with end­less anony­mous brief­ings telling ev­ery­one that things were go­ing to be dif­fer­ent and bet­ter than un­der the ‘out-of-touch toffs’ who had gone be­fore. A for­mer col­league put it: ‘They seem in­ca­pable of ac­cept­ing that Cameron and Os­borne were right about a thing or two.’ Through­out it all we swal­lowed our pride and re­fused to be back­seat driv­ers. We wanted to cre­ate the space for the new Prime Min­is­ter to suc­ceed. That’s be­cause, be­fore we even get to Brexit, the in-tray is stack­ing up with se­ri­ous is­sues that de­mand ac­tion. The aim of try­ing to solve the cri­sis in so­cial care for the el­derly in this coun­try was en­tirely laud­able if ut­terly mis­han­dled when smug­gled into the man­i­festo with­out pre­par­ing the ground. More­over, this coun­try still has a deficit at a time when pub­lic ser­vices face se­ri­ous strain. Wages are lag­ging be­hind in­fla­tion. Noth­ing short of our fu­ture pros­per­ity and well­be­ing is at stake. If any of th­ese things are go­ing to be dealt with prop­erly, we need a Govern­ment that is will­ing to do un­pop­u­lar things, and not un­der threat of be­ing voted down at the sign of the slight­est re­bel­lion. But I was wor­ried about Nick Ti­mothy be­ing de­ter­mined to aban­don the cen­tre ground. With the help of Lynton Crosby, David Cameron de­liv­ered a strat­egy that was ca­pa­ble of unit­ing tra­di­tional shire Tories with the more lib­eral-minded groups. Their plan worked bet­ter than they dared dream – blind­sid­ing the me­dia and the Lib­eral Democrats, de­spite car­ry­ing it out in plain sight.

Dur­ing the 2015 cam­paign we served up end­less photo op­por­tu­ni­ties hav­ing taken the me­dia on dozens of trips to LibDem marginals – yet no one seemed to grasp that it was de­liv­er­ing, and in­stead pre­sented us with ev­i­dence that sup­pos­edly proved, ‘You can’t win!’

That ap­proach was aban­doned by Theresa May on tak­ing power in the wake of the EU ref­er­en­dum. Her team had another sup­pos­edly cun­ning plan, cal­cu­lat­ing that the thick end of four mil­lion Ukip votes were up for grabs now the party had served its only pur­pose – a vote for Brexit.

The logic went like this: most of those vot­ers orig­i­nally sup­ported Labour; they tended to be so­cially con­ser­va­tive and from the North of Eng­land, hor­ri­fied by Jeremy Cor­byn’s met­ro­pol­i­tan, fire­brand so­cial­ism that ap­peared to care more about Venezuela than is­sues close to their heart. The idea in­tox­i­cated many and an en­tire Elec­tion cam­paign was built on it.

Team May fol­lowed the plan with a swag­ger in their hips – even launch­ing their man­i­festo in Halifax, a clear dec­la­ra­tion that they could win big in tra­di­tional Labour ar­eas.

By any stan­dards the plan failed af­ter ex­pec­ta­tions had been al­lowed to run wild, pre­dict­ing a triple-digit ma­jor­ity.

Labour were re­turned in Halifax – in­creas­ing their vote share by 12.8 per cent.

It’s now clear re­sources were squan­dered chas­ing the pipe dream of win­ning over Ukip vot­ers in Labour seats. It’s true Mar­garet Thatcher man­aged to win a lot of work­ing-class vot­ers, but she had re­tail poli­cies such as the right to own your coun­cil house. Theresa May’s man­i­festo – mas­ter­minded by Nick Ti­mothy – had tak­ing away school lunches from kids and win­ter fuel cash from OAPs south of the Bor­der.

Mean­while, seats won when Cameron staked out the cen­tre ground were lost, in­clud­ing Twick­en­ham, Bath, Crewe & Nantwich, Keigh­ley, Brighton Kemp­town, Ox­ford West & Abing­don, and War­ring­ton South.

I have lit­tle doubt that vot­ers who helped David Cameron to a ma­jor­ity in th­ese seats in 2015 aban­doned the Con­ser­va­tives this time be­cause they felt un­com­fort­able vot­ing for a party ar­gu­ing for the hard­est of Brex­its.

All of this mat­ters. Peo­ple who should have known bet­ter al­lowed Nick Ti­mothy and Fiona Hill to wield real in­flu­ence and power. Many knew what they were like but said the ends jus­ti­fied the means. They didn’t.

But far more im­por­tant than that, the Con­ser­va­tive party went for­ward un­der David Cameron’s mod­erni­sa­tion agenda – ul­ti­mately win­ning an over­all ma­jor­ity for the first time in 18 years. It went back­wards un­der Theresa May’s Ukip-fo­cused agenda. Per­haps, if she and her team had been more pre­pared to ac­cept and re­spect what David Cameron achieved, things could have been dif­fer­ent.

Her team took plea­sure in sack­ing any­one close to us They chased a pipe dream of try­ing to win Ukip votes

The pa­per­back ver­sion of Craig Oliver’s best­selling book, Un­leash­ing Demons – The In­side Story Of Brexit, is out now.

 ??  ?? men with
a plan: Craig Oliver with David Cameron in 2015
men with a plan: Craig Oliver with David Cameron in 2015

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