Magazine article The Spectator

The Tories Should Fear the Dynamic New Team of Professionals That Brown Is Assembling

Magazine article The Spectator

The Tories Should Fear the Dynamic New Team of Professionals That Brown Is Assembling

Article excerpt

It is a story that could have been scripted to boost morale in Conservative headquarters. At five o'clock one morning, security guards at 10 Downing Street were called in to intercept an intruder only to find the Prime Minister trying to enter his own office. Apart from the delicious image this conjures of Gordon Brown in his pyjamas, cursing as he bashes in the security code, it caricatures him as the ideal political opponent. An inept, flailing control freak, whose own shortcomings will lose Labour the next election.

Alas for the Tories, this story is several months out of date. It took place in the earliest days of the Brown premiership, when he had no home access to the Prime Minister's computer, forcing him to sneak downstairs to the office. Much has changed since then and the latest developments are, for the Tories, no laughing matter. The PM is building an increasingly professional team in No. 10 -- and, more importantly, learning to trust it. What is more, the new Brown operation strikes a formidable contrast with Tory head office.

The crunch came at the end of last year, when Mr Brown realised that his plan to run No. 10 using former Treasury officials and Brownite apparatchiks had failed. The evidence was, by then, piled high, with Northern Rock at the top. So he sent Tom Scholar, his chief of staff, back to the Treasury and hired Stephen Carter, an outsider with an extraordinary CV. In the past ten years alone he has run J. Walter Thompson UK, the advertising firm, NTL (now known as Virgin Media), the regulator Ofcom, and Brunswick, the stellar public relations agency.

So Mr Carter is, to put it mildly, one of the more capable men wandering around Whitehall. Even the most paranoid Prime Minister could trust his abilities -- which Mr Brown is doing. The PM no longer takes part in the No. 10 early morning conference call -- ceding the floor to Mr Carter, who works in tandem with Jeremy Heywood, brought back from Morgan Stanley to the new post of permanent secretary at No. 10. Those who overhear their conversations with Mr Brown say that phrases like 'It's OK, we'll fix it' are common. Amazingly, Gordon is slowly letting go.

Two recruits have joined No. 10 in the last week. One is Jennifer Moses, a former Goldman Sachs managing director and former head of CentreForum, a (surprisingly good) Liberal Democrat think-tank. Just last month she wrote a spirited article blaming Mr Brown's benefits system for 'huge financial disincentives to move from welfare to work'.

Her new home is the No. 10 policy unit. She will soon be joined by David Muir, one of the most respected figures in the world of new media and advertising, who ran a division of the WPP empire and has co-authored a wellreceived book, The Business of Brands.

Any venture capital firm would be delighted with such a team of turnaround specialists. Yet what is striking about Mr Brown's new recruits is that there is hardly a Labour party membership card among them: these are not the fanatical Brownite guerrillas of New Labour Mark One. Mr Carter has no ideological bent and Mr Heywood is considered a natural conservative. It is as if Brown Inc. were a company facing a hostile takeover, advised by Goldmans to hire a new management team. A common technique in the City, and in American politics -- but not in Westminster.

So it is futile to argue, as many Conservatives still do, that nothing of any substance is happening in 10 Downing Street and that Mr Brown is a rather large Scottish bunny frozen in the headlights. …

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