David Cameron’s decision to convene an inner Cabinet of seven Tories to advise him is a sensible move. As I say in the Mail on Sunday, calling this group together shows that Cameron knows he needs help handling his party. I understand that it meets regularly with a particular emphasis on the Conservative party side of coalition management.
One Cabinet minister told me recently that the Prime Minister spends more time on coalition management than any other subject. To date, this has too often been at the expense of party management. Inevitably, if you spend most of the time thinking about what the Liberal Democrats will accept you begin to lose touch with your own party. But the formation of this new inner Cabinet suggests that Cameron now realises he is governing in coalition with his party as much as the Liberal Democrats.
The membership of the group is revealing. It contains two former Tory leaders, William Hague and Iain Duncan Smith. Duncan Smith’s presence is particularly striking given that he’s been prepared to tell Cameron where he thinks he is going wrong. Clearly, Cameron wants these meetings to be more than loyalist pep rallies.
Hague and Duncan Smith are joined by a man who has served in the Cabinets of the past three Conservative Prime Ministers, Ken Clarke. Clarke’s attendance shows both the high regard Cameron holds him in and that this 72 year-old is highly unlikely to be pensioned off at the reshuffle.
Theresa May is the only female member of this ‘secret seven’. Despite tensions between Number 10 and the Home Office recently over the queues at Heathrow that have led to various early morning meetings without coffee, the relationship between the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary remains strong. Also at the table were two Cabinet ministers who have been Cameron allies from the very start, George Osborne and Michael Gove.
The final member of the group is Philip Hammond. That he was there despite not being either a party elder or a Notting Hill Tory shows how rapidly his stock is rising in the party.