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Operation Get-a-Grip – hilarious to see Cameron going back to Blairite centralisation

Posted on 20 February 2011 | 6:02pm

David Cameron was always quite fond of criticising the centralising Number 10 system which operated under Tony Blair.

So it is highly amusing to watch him steadily shift towards the kind of centralising Number 10 system which operated under Tony Blair.

He appears to be realising that whilst it is all well and good in theory to let ministers get on with the job of running their departments, if they do so without regard to broader strategy and an understanding of the political scene as a whole, all manner of chaos and incompetence can ensue. We have seen plenty of both of late.

Cameron just about got away with his plea of ignorance on the botched sell-off plan for forests. But how on earth such a proposal got off the ground without Number 10 thinking through the consequences is just, well, odd. Odd too to have Number 10 saying they were taken aback by the scale of the NHS reforms brought forward by Andrew Lansley.

It is commendable that Cameron wants to see his kids every now and then. But the constant chatter you hear that he likes to work relatively short hours, and not get too immersed in policy detail unless he really has to, does not suggest a PM as much in control as he would like us to believe when he struts his stuff at PMQs.

The appointment of pollster Andrew Cooper in a strategic co-ordinating role is sensible, if the aim is to get government activity organised according to a coherent and compelling narrrative.

Cooper is a thoughtful and intelligent man presumably hoping to get a grip of a machine that has been spluttering at best. But unless his boss makes clear throughout the system that he has seen the error of his ways, and the system responds,  Operation Get A Grip won’t work, and Cooper will become just one more confused contributor to a confused set-up.

  • Lauramarcus

    Let’s face it, Cameron’s never had to work for anything in his life. And it’s beginning to show. If ever there was as argument for worth not birth, he is it.

  • Terry Coleman

    A well thought through commentary.

  • Redredwhine

    Still think we might prefer him to either of his predecessors – Tony the Inaccurate and Gordon the Unbalanced

  • KDouglas

    I thought chaos was Cameron’s strategy, this being the most likely force to abet him in his dismantling of the public realm. I suppose AC is saying you can only have so much of it. I can’t help thinking Cooper can only attempt to limit the damage, though, because there is so much wrong with the team that Cameron has. Imagine trying to control Michael Gove – surely only a strait jacket would suffice?

    I notice that Ed Miliband’s edict on clearing policy centrally has been belittled in the usual quarters, but Cameron’s acquisition of about ten new policy wonks is supposed to be a master stroke.

  • Jacquie R

    But does the success of winning Operation Get a Grip depend on the arguments? Or does it depend on winning the propaganda? Know where I would put my money, I’m afraid, specially when the propaganda machine is on the prpagandist’s side!

  • Robert

    Part of the Tories’ pre-election anti-Labour narrative was a criticism of focus groups so it will be interesting to see what suggestions Andrew Cooper comes up with, through polling of course, for the name of the process by which he will test the policies they dream up.

    Perhaps he’ll suggest having a focus group to help pick a name!

  • Nicky

    I wonder if Cameron misses the days when he was in opposition. (I know I certainly miss those days. ) Back then it was all so easy for him to adopt a tone of mocking superiority regarding the then government, because – of course – his lot would do it all so much better. Now he seemed astonished that it’s so much more complicated than he expected.

    Good post AC, and Laura’s comment also really sums it up.

  • Richard

    The centralisation you promoted for TB and GB emasculated the Cabinet totally, as disclosed by Blair re Iraq. The public were not keen on the results, and the resultant “Government of No Talents at all” got the boot. Frank Field was ditched as a perceived threat.
    The coalition will take five parliaments to approach the dogmatic bullying which your bosses promoted for so long.

  • Jose

    This actually says more about Miliband than Cameron. If there is chaos within the government how come Miliband is being so ineffective?

  • David the Dismantler?

  • Dave Simons

    Five parliaments? Are you sure about the figure or could it maybe be six parliaments or two and a half? Is your surname Nostradamus? And has the ‘coalition’ (AKA Tory Party) lost its collective memory when it needs to take so long to reinstate a style of government which was practised so emphatically from 1979 to 1990? Have you lost or suppressed your memory of the dogmatic bullying that took place over that too-long period?

    • Richard

      Just an estimate Dave, just an estimate, but your range of between six and two and a half parliaments is equally valid. You are definitely not on message, however, and I hope that “they” do not know where you live!
      Nothing to say re Frank Field, I see.
      Finally, if you think about it, dogmatic bullying is unlikely in a coalition with such a slim majority. Clear your nostrils and smell the coffee,Dave.

  • Ehtch

    Tories and their still fantasy castles, tories and their fantasy castles, as someone like this described it , from Sheffield actuallly, where Clegg should live, but actually claims expenses from,
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KcoGU5i9E9s

    And by the way Mr Campbell, I like your honest. Any chance of a C on that last……

  • Olli Issakainen

    Cameron´s new backroom staff aims to move the story from U-turns and cuts.
    New team aims to drive through a fresh approach to the cuts. Andrew Cooper will become the head of political strategy. Steve Hilton will remain as spad. Paul Kirby from KPMG will be the civil service head of policy development at No 10.
    The resignation of Andy Coulson means that Craig Oliver from the BBC becomes the communications chief in March.
    After a series of U-turns a new focus will be on political strategy. Vision will be that there is more than just cuts to the government. A new NARRATIVE is about to emerge.
    The idea is also that No 10 will have a greater grip on Whitehall departments after a series of mistakes.
    David Cameron has had hands off and “I do not do details” approach to his job. Clearly this has not worked well. Attention to the consequences of policies has not been there.
    There has been a failure to monitor individual Whitehall departments. Under Labour there was a policy unit that shadowed departments. The Tory-led government has so far had very small policy unit consisting of couple of civil servants.
    As Simon Jenkins says in his Thatcher & Sons, power under Mrs T became centralized. This continued with Tony Blair. The instrument of centralization was the Treasury.
    Now David Cameron is trying to use centralized power to create Big Society!
    Neoliberals wanted to limit government, but the upshot of their policies has been a huge expansion in the power of the state. The government was forced to step in to save the financial system.

  • Chris lancashire

    Frankly I prefer the hands-off approach adopted so far. Far preferable to the control freakery practised by Mr Blair and yourself.

  • Matt

    Gossip question… AC what is your definition of ‘relatively short hours’ for a PM??

  • Richard

    Nurse, Etch is out of bed again and he has not taken his medicine

  • Dave Simons

    How on earth did you know I was a coffee addict?
    Silly of me not to say anything about Frank. To be Frank the last I heard of him he was working for the Czar in the Field of poverty. Some sort of conjuror, I think? Assisting the Tories with their usual trick of trying to keep the poor in poverty whilst simultaneously trying to make it look as if they are lifting them out of poverty. (And what happened to that £250 I was promised as someone earning less than £21,000 a year?)

  • Anonymous

    Please define how the opposition could be more effective at this stage. I think you should share this!

  • Nochinquinn

    He can get his fag, Nick Clegg to do his errands for him.

  • Jose

    What, you want me to write opposition policies for them? I think you´ll find that they already employ a whole team of people/advisors to do precisely this. So, either the team is poor or they have no policies or Miliband´s presentation is a combination of both.

  • Robert

    If he doesn’t out-Thatch the Thatch his own party will know him as David the Damp.

  • Joe

    Opposition at this stage of a government is always pretty much irrelevant. It says a lot about the incompetence of the coalition that there is any attention at all to EM. Many politicians have faded into obscurity by being Leader of the opposition at the wrong time. lets see in a few months.

  • Ehtch

    At least I am entertaining, Richard, or is that Dick, or just simply Dickie, darling.

    Love to fish these people, they always bite.

  • Jbmcfadden

    ask tony how his mate colonel gadaffi is

  • Ehtch

    Dickie, darling, a song for you, to remind if young people have too much time on their hands, what could happen to your Jeremy Clarkson salivated slobberd over Top Gear car.

    Now, I am not predicting the future, just repeating what the marvellous brilliant bloke John Foxx said in 1980. which came true for a good few years, until, say, 1997, when that certain Blair became PM.

    History repeating itself? Enjoy Dickie darling,
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_NGVqQF6ccg

  • Ehtch

    And by the way Dickie/Richard, how is Cleggy enjoying his holiday in Switzerland with his kiddies? Nice to get away, isn’t it, leaving your post, leaving the country ungoverned.

    Remind him to check the solidarty of his Swiss accounts there , Dickie, by the way.

    Can’t stand these money hoarders and their friends.