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Mediawatch: Welcome to a very long election campaign

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Now that all those new year’s resolutions are behind us, it’s time instead to think what the new year brings. So here’s my reading of the runes.

First we have had a wonderful splat on Radio 4 between Grant Shapps and Clive Betts about councillor allowances - where Grant suggested that if we pay councillors more, who next boy scout leaders. (Note for file, the next time you have a dispute whether council meetings should start with prayers Grant’s solution may be instead to recite the scout’s pledge).

Secondly we have had a number of interesting appointments - before Christmas we had the announcement that Lynton Crosby would be the Conservative general election campaign manager, and now we have the news that Alex Aiken will be moving from Westminster (the city) to Westminster (the village) to be head of government communications. Alex has a long track record in local government, (so we have a voice at court) but no one has ever accused him of being a softie. However I would expect a much tighter ship, and better grid management (talking of which read the recent blog by Damian McBride, who has reinvented himself from being a front line enforcer, I mean that as a compliment, to the best insider analyst about how Downing Street  actually works).

Thirdly there has been a remarkable series of articles- particularly in the Times but also elsewhere about the increasingly fractious relationship between some senior ministers and their civil servants (so second note for the file it is not just local government officers who are in the firing range).

Now here is what I think is the link between these three stories. First, we are well past the initial honeymoon period and ministers are realising just how tough it is to make a difference. Second Cameron is assembling is general election team. By the time Aiken is properly in place in No.10, to paraphrase the Gene Pitney song we are “only 24 months from purdah”, and the longest general election campaign in our history is underway.

hirdly expect a lot more hand grenades chucked in our direction. My advice though is, learn to bite your lip, and remember to keep the lines of communication open. As Michael Corleane would say “it’s not personal, it’s strictly business.”

Joe Simpson, principal strategic adviser, LGA

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Splat? Spat, methinks! Although it appears that many Conservative Council Leaders might want to splat Mr Shapps.
    And it wasn't really about whether councillors should be paid more. It was about whether councillors should receive any pay/allowances/re-imbursement at all. G Shapps suggested that councillors should be 'volunteers', using scout leaders as an analogy. It's a little surprising that no-one seems to have asked Mr Shapps whether his principle also applies to magistrates, appointees to hospital trusts etc etc.
    I well remember being told in the late 1980s by a Conservative County Council Leader "It's become impossible to find candidates of any calibre. All the potentials have gone off to the quangos. They're financially better off; they don't have to meet the public and there's no casework; and the media don't blame them for anything. It's no contest."

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