November 22, 2006

Chairman Maude makes a Great Leap Forward

Posted by Watlington

One surprise of the Tory renaissance is the rehabilitation of Party Chairman Francis Maude. His initial appointment as Party Chairman was greeted with dismay by those on the right and from many IDS supporters. Moreover, during the summer he was subject to a whispering campaign - thought to have come from the Leader's Office unhappy about the progress of candidate reform - questioning whether he would be moved. And yet, Mr Maude could prove to be one of the best Chairman the Conservatives have had for many years.

Bit by bit, Mr Maude has reasserted his grip on the Party machine. First he reformed Conservative Central Office by closing the wasteful Conservative Research Department (which had become a huge bureaucracy). He redeployed the best staff to work as Special Advisers to Shadow Cabinet Ministers.

Second, Mr Maude changed the selection procedure for candidates. Of course this reform has not been without its major flaws (see Ali M IndaHouse? Watlington reports on the Conservative Party's latest problems with candidate selection), but no one can deny that the candidates in target seats represent a broader cross section of the British people than ever before. Priti Patel's (an excellent individual) selection in Witham (white van land) was a coup for the modernisers and was a slap in the face for Ali Miraj who complained that he could not get selected in the constituency because of his ethnic background. Some MPs are still furious with Mr Miraj - particularly since he made public a private conversation (denied by Bernard Jenkin).

Third, Mr Maude has been making huge efforts to improve the Conservative infrastructure on the ground. Working closely with Lord Ashcroft, Conservative HQ has been identifying ways of boosting the party in target seats. A few weeks ago, target seat candidates and senior activists were invited to a private conference, headed by Lord Ashcroft, in which the Party set out the latest polling data and explained the strategy for winning target seats at the next election. It is clear that there is a determination from the Party HQ who emphasised that they will have no truck with Constituency Associations who refuse to be part of the reform agenda. Mr Maude has also appointed some of the best Party Agents as Campaign Directors across the country. Each Campaign Director is tasked with working with up to 3-4 Parliamentary candidates in target seats in each region.

Fourth, Mr Maude has ensured that the party has come to the grips with the new media. Rather than alienating blogs like, he has made every effort to bring the blogs on board. He has sent Tim Montgomerie, the editor of ConservativeHome to Washington to examine the US political blogosphere and regularly writes for the ConservativeHome Website. The Party's official website is also in the throes of being revamped and WebCameron is judged to be a remarkable success.

Fifth, Mr Maude has made every effort to build bridges with all sections of the Party. No where is this more true than in his attempts to make a rapprochement with Iain Duncan Smith - despite having a major dispute with IDS when he was leader. Mr Maude has been fulsome in his praise for IDS's Centre for Social Justice, describing the organisation as something "very special" and an important idea which had never been done by the Party before. He also attended the CSJ annual awards. Mr Maude has also ensured that there is a strong "social action" programme at CCHQ and has appointed ex Policy Exchanger Rishi Saha to manage social action programmes with Parliamentary candidates and party activists.

The credit for the Maude revival is in part due to an unknown but exceptional individual - James McGrath (Maude's Chief of Staff). Mr McGrath is well liked at Conservative HQ and makes every effort to keep his name out of newspaper print. An Australian, he is thought to have been groomed for campaigning by Lynton Crosby (interestingly the campaign guru was back in Westminster meeting members of the Shadow Cabinet last week).

All in all, Mr Maude could prove to be an exceptional party Chairman. Of course much more remains to be done: keeping non A listers on board, rebuilding constituency infrastructure at grassroots level; increasing the membership base and such like. But so far, to his credit, Chairman Maude has made a giant leap forward.

To read more by Watlington, see Watlington.

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No progress up North. Could be because the Party's becoming a Southern run clique. They may be female and brown, which is good - but where are the regional accents and the Northerners?
Cameron is obviously public school. He needs people around him from other backgrounds - not a bunch of clones. Maude has not addressed the Party's needs North of Watford.

Posted by: Tapestry at November 25, 2006 11:30 AM

Are you trying to get on the A-List yourself? I do enjoy reading this guff from time to time just for the sheer boldness of the claims in this blog. Keep up the amusing work!

Posted by: Manjit at November 25, 2006 06:39 PM
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