August 17, 2005

The Airey Neave test: which Tory leadership candidate has the strongest team?

Posted by Watlington

Which candidate for the Conservative Party leadership has the strongest team behind him? Watlington identifies the major players in each candidate's team and assesses their effectiveness. Watlington also considers which candidate has the strongest team overall, giving them a score on the "Airey Neave test", i.e. how they measure up against the campaign team assembled by Airey Neave in 1975 in support of Margaret Thatcher. The views expressed in this article are those of the author, not those of the Social Affairs Unit, its Trustees, Advisors or Director.

What are the real qualities of leadership? Of course having an iron will, a sense of destiny, and determination are important. But even more essential is an ability to appoint brilliant and able people to your inner staff that can be relied on to carry out the necessary tasks and give vital advice to the Leader.

Margaret Thatcher understood this more than most. When she stood for the Conservative leadership in 1975, she was seen as unlikely victor. A woman, an outsider and not naturally "clubbable" it was thought that she had no chance and that far more experienced and heavyweight men would beat her. At the time, Constituency Chairmen came out overwhelmingly for Edward Heath as did 70% of Tory voters in a poll for the Sunday Express.

One of the key reasons she won – against all the odds – was that she picked a campaign team that was second to none. Headed by Airey Neave MP (later to be tragically killed by the IRA), she had Angus Maude MP, Frank Johnson, Sir Alfred Sherman and Keith Joseph to help with policy, articles and speeches whilst the PR supremo Gordon Reece, assisted her with her media image.

Without the skills of her inner campaign team, it is unlikely, that however able, Margaret Thatcher would have become leader, especially since she had the whole of the Tory establishment against her.

The purpose of this article is to examine whether any of the current leadership candidates have assembled a similar campaign team worthy of Airey Neave's efforts in 1975: The teams are assessed under the Airey Neave Test: (i) Do they have senior and respected MPs behind the campaign; (ii) the quality of the apparatchiks; and (iii) the level of funding.

1. David Davis
Mr Davis has appointed close friend Iain Dale as his Chief of Staff. Mr Dale is founder of Politico's Bookshop and fought North Norfolk at the last election (the seat had a 8.6% swing to the Liberal Democrats). Iain Dale is well regarded and has pioneered the use of the internet and DVDs for political campaigning. However, there are some who suggest that Mr Dale would be better suited solely at dealing with the Press Lobby, something at which he is particularly expert.

Alongside Mr Dale is Nick Herbert MP, one of the most able people around Mr Davis. Clever, shrewd and politically astute, Mr Herbert has a central role in directing the campaign and will be instrumental in bringing the new boys on board. Mr Herbert used to run the Reform think tank, which caused a storm by making the intellectual case for market reform of public services. Mr Herbert is supported by a young researcher James Frayne, also highly regarded. Mr Frayne played a central part in organising the successful no campaign against the North East Assembly.

Other MPs running the Davis Campaign are close chums Derek Conway MP (disliked by many) and Andrew Mitchell MP (described by his enemies as a "bad man"). Others however argue that the enmity against Mr Conway and Mr Mitchell is just black propaganda put out by Mr Davis's opponents. Some suggest that Mr Davis has chosen these two controversial characters as "lightening conductors".

Danny Kruger, a talented Leader writer on the Daily Telegraph is thought to have been giving advice on speeches.

Backing the Davis campaign financially is Lord Kalms, former Treasurer of the Conservative Party under IDS.

Overall the Davis campaign team is mixed. Many who are sympathetic to Mr Davis suggest that he needs a Charles Powell type character to complement Mr Dale's skills with the media.

Airey Neave test score: 65%

2. David Cameron
Mr Cameron has chosen a young, traditionalist right winger, Alex Deane, as his Chief of Staff. Mr Deane is a former Chief of Staff to Tim Collins (who lost his seat of Westmoreland at the election) and a former Fellow at the Maudite/Portilllista think tank, Policy Exchange. Erudite and clever (he has recently published a book on the Middle Classes), Mr Deane has seamlessly transferred his loyalties to Mr Cameron and is a vociferous advocate of his new Master arguing that Cameron will do a "Nixon in China". Mr Deane believes that it takes someone from a libertarian "Notting Hill" background to make the case for the family and for marriage. Indeed, Mr Deane was an important influence behind Mr Cameron's speech on family values and social disintegration.

Mr Cameron's Press Officer is George Eustace (known as George Useless by his enemies). Mr Eustace was second in command of the Press Department (after Guy Black) and is a former strawberry farmer. Regarded as genial and decent, he is close to the Notting Hill camp.

Serious MPs backing Mr Cameron are Oliver Letwin MP, Michael Gove MP and Cameron's biggest chum George Osborne MP. These characters are serious and will be giving Cameron some first rate strategic and tactical advice.

Catherine Fall, who efficiently ran the Business Liaison Unit for Michael Howard has also moved to work for Mr Cameron. Catherine Fall's father was a former distinguished Ambassador to Moscow.

Many of the Notting Hill set who were close to Howard's office, most notably Rachel Whetstone, are also supporting Mr Cameron.

Financially, Mr Cameron is generously supported by Lord Harris of Peckham.

Airey Neave test score: 60%

3. Liam Fox
Of all the Leadership candidates, Mr Fox probably has the most qualified Chief of Staff, Bill Clare. Mr Fox met Mr Clare during his stint at the Foreign Office (Mr Clare was a Civil Servant) and Mr Clare has worked for Mr Fox ever since. Highly experienced, Bill Clare has worked overseas and under Alastair Campbell and is highly accomplished in working with the media.

Supporting Bill Clare is researcher Paul Maynard, a noted psephologist and an expert number cruncher. Maynard will become extremely useful in working out voting intentions of MPs.

The MPs running Mr Fox's campaign are Chris Grayling MP, Stephen O'Brien MP and Oliver Heald MP. Mr Grayling in particular is highly accomplished and seen as a rising star (he has already won an award for the best Parliamentarian of the year from Channel 4). Mr Grayling will have an influence on the new MPs in the interests of Liam Fox similar to that of Nick Herbert in the interests of David Davis. But Mr Grayling has the advantage of four years of parliamentary experience behind him.

Mr Fox's campaign is being financed by a number of donors and Mr Fox's centre-right Anglo American Think Tank, Atlantic Bridge, will keep him in touch with key businessmen and political influencers on both sides of the Atlantic. Mr Fox and Mr Clare are good at attracting funds. He has just received a donation from a private donor which will pay for some of his trips abroad as Shadow Foreign Secretary.

Airey Neave test score: 70%

4. David Willetts
David Willetts has just appointed Penny Mordaunt (a former CCO Press Officer). Miss Mordaunt fought Portsmouth North at the last election and achieved a creditable swing of 3%. Miss Mordaunt is a wise choice by Mr Willetts. She will bring some much needed street wise politics to the cerebral Mr Willetts.

David Lidington MP is the central MP behind Mr Willetts campaign. Highly respected, Mr Lidington ran the successful Hague campaign in 2001 and was Mr Hague's PPS for a number of years. Mr Lidington, currently Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary, is a serious proponent of "compassionate conservatism" and will be a serious player under whoever becomes leader.

Airey Neave test score: 40%

5. Malcolm Rifkind
Sir Malcolm Rifkind's chief protagonist is Crispin Blunt MP, his former Special Adviser when Sir Malcolm was Defence Secretary. Mr Blunt's reputation is mixed and his loyalty has come under question. He is the man who showed extreme disloyalty to Mr Iain Duncan Smith. Mr Blunt chose to step down as an opposition spokesman and called on IDS to resign after the polls had closed during the 2003 local elections. He did this at around 10pm live on TV, on election night. This caused great discomfort to the thousands of party activists who had just got home from having canvassed and knocked on doors to get the vote out. Hardly a morale booster. Obviously to Mr Blunt's surprise - and disappointment - the Party did extremely well and won up to 700 extra seats and IDS was not toppled at this time.

Mr Blunt is also a strong critic of the state of Israel and has sided with Palestinian militancy. Indeed, after a speech IDS had made which supported Israel's stance against terror, Mr Blunt went to see IDS and stated how outraged he was by IDS's speech.

Mr Rifkind's choice of campaign manager weakens his candidacy considerably. Is Mr Rifkind saying he supports major acts of disloyalty? Is he saying that he has sympathy with the neo-Gallowayist views of Mr Blunt?

Airey Neave test score: 5%

6. Kenneth Clarke
Ken Clarke has the support of Andrew Tyrie MP, an affable, decent and capable intellectual. Unlike other former Clarkeites like Damian Green and Ian Taylor, Tyrie has stayed loyal to his man. Mr Tyrie should not be underestimated.

In charge of the PR and Media will be the talented Richard Chalk, who served both IDS and Michael Howard with distinction. There are strong rumours emanating from the website, that Mr Chalk's sidekick Paul Baverstock, currently of Ketchum PR (and IDS's former communication chief) will join the Clarke team to offer communication advice. Mr Baverstock's appointment is all the more astonishing because he was initially thought to have offered his services to David Davis.

Mr Clarke is thought to be able to call on some serious financial support if required.

Airey Neave test score: 25%

In summary, Mr Fox passes the Airey Neave test with flying colours, yet is currently in a weaker position than Mr Davis and Mr Cameron. Mr Davis's campaign team is not yet at full strength and Lord Kalms, his benefactor is thought to have some concerns and is keen to appoint a big hitter, a "real insider" to complement the rest of the team. Jonathan Hill (formerly of the Number 10 Policy Unit under John Major) is rumoured to be a candidate to beef up the Davis team. Mr Cameron's team is good but the preponderance of "Notting Hillers" alienates many potential supporters. Mr Willetts is just off the starting line in beginning to assemble his team, as is Mr Clarke, with Mr Rifkind way behind.

To read more by Watlington, see Watlington.

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Your information on the "Airey Neave test: which Tory leadership candidate has the strongest team?" is now out of date with regards to Sir Malcolm Rifkind.

In the past month Toby Vintcent and Bob Seely have joined Malcolm Rifkind's Westminster staff.
Toby was director of Merrill Lynch Investment Managers.
In his spare time he was chairman of Greater London Conservatives from 1999-2002. He also helped set up the Geneva call centre and is a member of the Conservative Campaigning Board.

He was deputy team manager for the British Equestrian team at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games. He is a director of the British Equestrian Federation.

Bob is Malcolm's Press and media officer. Bob was a journalist for ten years. He was a foreign correspondent for five years, working for amongst others, the Washington Post and The Times. He has written extensively on Soviet and Russian affairs. His last job in journalism was with the Associated Press.

In the past five years he has been Chief of Staff to Francis Maude, press secretary to Michael Howard when Shadow Chancellor, and helped formulate the party’s advertising plan last year for the General Election. He stood in the 2005 election for Broxtowe, Notts., where Labour suffered a 3.6 percent swing against them.

Toby and Bob's arrival compliments Sir Malcolm's team in Westminster. Sir Malcolm has other people working on a part-time basis, including speech writers and office assistants.

Posted by: Margit Williams at August 22, 2005 03:46 PM

To respond to Margit Williams' points, Bob Seely is a former press officer to Michael Howard. Toby Vintcent is a senior activist well-known on the Greater London Conservative circuit. Mr Seely fought Broxtowe at the last election and had a creditable swing of 3.6%. Highly ambitious, he was disappointed not to have remained Mr Howard's press officer when Mr Howard became leader and ended up doing campaigning logistics at Conservative Central Office. Mr Vintcent is affable and a seasoned constituency campaigner. He worked on Jeffrey Archer's mayoral campaign. (Mr Rifkind is also an old and loyal friend of Mr Archer.) Mr Vintcent's bible is the American campaigning book "All's Fair", co-written by (husband and wife) Republican Mary Matalin and Democrat John Carville. These additions to his team do give Mr Rifkind a small boost and improve his "Airey Neave test score" from 5% to 25%.

Posted by: Watlington at August 30, 2005 05:30 PM

Just to clarify there was a 3.6% swing in Broxtowe from Labour but the tory vote only went up under Bob seely by 0.5% most of the vote fragmented elsewere, but not to Bob.

Posted by: bernard at September 27, 2005 04:22 PM
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