The Cameron operation’s effort to move onto an election footing continues with a set of new appointments to the Number 10 political operation. Gabby Bertin, who has been with Cameron since he became Tory leader, will return from maternity leave to become director of external relations. Bertin, who was previously Cameron’s political spokeswoman, will be responsible for forging – and maintaining Downing Street’s – relations with business, pressure groups and charities.
The appointment of one of his most trusted aides to this role is a sign of how imperative Cameron believes it is to prevent Labour from securing business support at the next election. Bertin’s return will be greeted with particular delight in Number 10 as she is one of the few people whose listened to if they tell Cameron where he is going wrong. But Bertin will not be dealing with the press in her new, enhanced role.
Graeme Wilson, currently deputy political editor of The Sun, will take on the role of Downing Street press secretary. By hiring Wilson, Craig Oliver, Number 10’s director of communications, has brought one of the most respected political journalists in Fleet Street into his team. The high regard in which Wilson is held will boost relations between Number 10 and the political print press. Though I suspect there’ll be some bleating about Cameron hiring another journalist from a Murdoch paper.
Oliver has spent much of the last few months trying to make sure that the Downing Street political operation and Conservative Campaign Headquarters work seamlessly together. This summer’s Tory message discipline –and the pressure it has put on Labour—is taken as a sign that this work is bearing fruit.
Political operations can’t change the fundamentals of politics; they can’t make the economy grow faster. But the reason why these appointments matter beyond the gates of Downing Street, is that a good operation takes its chances and a bad — or divided one — does not: just look at how the confused Tory campaign in 2010 failed to capitalise on Gordon Brown’s unpopularity. If the Tories can prevent a recurrence of these problems, then they’ll have a better chance of still having a hold on Downing Street after the next election.