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The Tories get their own Alastair Campbell

31 May 2007

12:33 PM

31 May 2007

12:33 PM

The Conservatives long hunt for a communications chief is over. Andy Coulson, ex-editor of the News of the World, will be confirmed later today as its new communications chief and it’s an appointment that will stun Westminster. No one would have thought the party would get someone of his calibre.

Last summer Andy hired me as a columnist to the News of the World. I’d meet him every Friday before writing the column, and soon found how sharp he was. From tax burden figures to troop deployments, he seemed to know everything – and, crucially, how to present it.

He’s a tabloid man, yes, but with the ability to look at a Cameron speech on crime and say “hug a hoodie” (it was the News of the World who coined the phrase). This is the ability the Tories woefully lack. No one looked at Willetts’ speech and said “grammar school row”. Coulson, I suspect, would never have let things get that far.

It’s been a long hunt, and a few (lesser) people have turned down approaches. George Eustice’s position is not affected: he will still pound the corridors of the Commons. But he has always needed backup, and actively took part in Coulson’s recruitment.

Coulson’s intelligence is the precise opposite of that of David Willetts and Oliver Letwin’s. They will deliver acres of clever thoughts and phrases, he will say how it will come across to the average voter. Failure to work this out has been behind every Tory blunder so far. Cameron has done wonders with the London elite, but needs to get across to what’s sometimes called “the strivers” – the aspirational working class: the ones who voted for Thatcher and then switched to Blair. Coulson’s job was to read their minds, work out what they want on a Sunday and serve it up. He did this for politics, as well as showbiz. It’s this kind of skill which has so far been glaringly absent from the Tory offering.
The Tory recruitment of an Alastair Campbell figure would itself be a turning point. Then, we’d know the party’s chances of victory were solid – if someone forsook a journalism career to help them. When Coulson quit the News of the World , few doubted he’d be back in a senior newspaper role. Many predicted he’d edit The Sun. Few predicted this.

My column in The Spectator today is about the deficiencies in the Tory spin machine. How will they cope with Brown, I asked. They’ve just given a resounding and persuasive answer.

Update: Guido’s take on Coulson is bang on.

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