Cameron’s polling shows that only a minority – 37% – believe he is strong enough to make a good Prime Minister, whereas Gordon Brown is believed to be a strong enough individual to hack a leadership role by 57% (Populus). Cameron may be a lot stronger than people think, but he studiously surrounds hmself with people who seem nice and appear to put their niceness over and above their dedication to their role. The emphasis so far has been almost exclusively on appearances – trying to look nice to compete with Blair – and rebrand the Conservative Party in the public’s mind.
Now Blair’s gone. Cameron, up against Brown needs to look stronger, but his first tendency is still to place other ‘nice’ guys around the shadow cabinet table. Hague, Osborne might be stronger than anyone under fire, but they seem very nice people. Even Fox and Davis manage to avoid being too controversial most of the time, and the number of women grows ever greater. The rebranding has tended to keep out the more serious-minded, or has stopped them from being too strident. It’s been almost a case of non-politics politics.
One character who is made of sterner stuff, and Cameron’s first promotion of a Cornerstoner to the Shadow Cabinet table is Owen Paterson MP. He is of a different progeny to the others. Very polite and certainly good-looking, Owen was IDS’ campaign manager when he won the leadership contest. He then became IDS’ envoy who tried to build an ant-federalism alliance inside the EU by visiting the accession countries plus Portugal and Spain before they went socialist and federalist in their leanings. If IDS had not fallen, the COnservatives might well have exited the EPP in 2003 and Owen would have been a prime mover in that. No one talks about it now, and it never lade the media even at the time.
He fought for the Fishing Industry and persuaded IDS’ shadow cabinet to make it party policy to withraw from the Common Fishing Policy. Owen, inside his faming/Fishing brief also fought against the policy of protecting badgers which have passd TB to herds of cows which have been infected with TB from badgers, resulting in the slaugter of millions of animals and billions in compensation.
Recently he has done important work pointing out the stupidity in the government’s Roads policies. Owen digs down to the detail, finds the problem and hits it hard, continually until people sit up and take notice. You will find him on the end of many Christopher Booker stories in the Sunday Telegraph. many politicans shy away from challenging powerful interst groups. Not Owen.
Cameron might find that Owen’s determination and interest in issues plays well with electors, and his movement up to Northern ireland should be a first step. Owen would do well in any brief. He will not play to the crowds, and is modest and businessllike in his approach.
There is more similar excellent managerial material in the Cornerstone Group – MPs experienced in business like Owen who used to travel all over the globe running his family’s tanning business until he sold up to focus on his political career. John Hayes is another who digs down to the detail and does not shirk or cave in to interest groups. Maybe his turn will benext.
Those Conservatives who worry that the Cameron team is exclusively a PR machine with little actual interest in managing and improving, should take heart from the appointment of Owen Paterson.