Cameron's clique accused of having "frozen out" his only black adviser

In another blue-on-blue attack, friends of Shaun Bailey claim he was sidelined by Cameron's Etonian aides.

In last Saturday's Daily Telegraph, David Davis pleaded with David Cameron to stop recruiting "old Etonian advisers". Tomorrow, in another blue-on-blue attack, some of the same advisers are accused of having "frozen out" Cameron's only black working class aide, Shaun Bailey. Bailey, who stood unsuccessfully in Hammersmith for the Tories at the last election, is said by a friend to have been sidelined after criticising No. 10's failure to address the rising cost of living and to build a more diverse party. Bailey was sacked as a special adviser earlier this year and moved to a part-time role at the cabinet office. The friend in question tells the Telegraph:

They just didn’t get what Shaun was saying. He kept challenging them saying, ‘Why are we not saying this?’ … He went into Downing Street and the first thing he said was, ‘The only political conversation you need to have publicly is about the cost of living’. He also gave plenty of warning that if they wanted to talk about being a diverse party, people have to see it. But they didn’t want to hear about it. Shaun was frozen out.

And there's worse, much worse. The friend adds:

Shaun always says that you can see from space that the place is dominated by those from Eton.

It was very difficult for Shaun. He was never included. He got the distinct impression they tried to keep him away from the Prime Minister. It got to a point where Shaun just stopped saying things because it was just getting him in trouble. There was even one week where he decided not to go into the office because he wanted to see if they would even notice. They didn’t. None of them.

Elsewhere, in an anecdote that Ed Miliband's team will already be considering how best to deploy at PMQs, we learn that Bailey was "horrified" when US pollster Frank Luntz visited Downing Street and asked Cameron's advisers "what kept them awake at night". The friend explains:

The pollster asked them what kept them awake at night and they didn’t even have the wit to understand that he meant it was the electorate.

When the pollster pointed that out to them, they literally said, 'Nothing keeps us awake’. How can you be advising people and nothing keeps you awake? Then someone said 'school fees’.

Here's how Labour's Michael Dugher has responded tonight:

"Once again David Cameron has shown that he is in complete denial about the cost of living crisis facing millions of hard-pressed families thanks to his Government's failure.

"When even one of his own advisers dares to point out some home truths, they are immediately shunned in favour of yet more old school chums and yes men.

"The idea that private school fees is the only thing keep David Cameron's clique awake at night tells you everything you need to know about this Government.

"This is a Prime Minister that takes being out of touch to a whole new level".

Some will dismiss all of the above as the usual grumblings of an out-of-favour adviser, but the fusion of race and class is toxic for Cameron. As pollsters regularly attest, now, more than ever, the Conservatives are viewed as "the party of the rich" and it's worth remembering that the Tories received just 16 per cent of the ethnic minority vote at the last election. In an acknowledgment that the party still has a race problem, there has long been talk of Cameron delivering a speech on the subject, in which he would repudiate Enoch Powell's "rivers of blood" speech and Norman Tebbit's "cricket test", the memory of which still hinders support for the Tories among ethnic minority voters. But for now, the Prime Minister would do well just to stem the tide of leaks from his party.

Update: Never blame the King, always blame his advisers. Here's how Bailey has responded on Twitter.

P.S. If you haven't already, do pick up this week's NS to read Jason's cover story on Cameron's clique and how "the old ruling class became the new ruling class", including his interview with Eton headmaster Tony Little (read some web-only extracts here).

Shaun Bailey, who stood for the Conservatives in Hammersmith at the last general election, with David Cameron.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Forget planning for no deal. The government isn't really planning for Brexit at all

The British government is simply not in a position to handle life after the EU.

No deal is better than a bad deal? That phrase has essentially vanished from Theresa May’s lips since the loss of her parliamentary majority in June, but it lives on in the minds of her boosters in the commentariat and the most committed parts of the Brexit press. In fact, they have a new meme: criticising the civil service and ministers who backed a Remain vote for “not preparing” for a no deal Brexit.

Leaving without a deal would mean, among other things, dropping out of the Open Skies agreement which allows British aeroplanes to fly to the United States and European Union. It would lead very quickly to food shortages and also mean that radioactive isotopes, used among other things for cancer treatment, wouldn’t be able to cross into the UK anymore. “Planning for no deal” actually means “making a deal”.  (Where the Brexit elite may have a point is that the consequences of no deal are sufficiently disruptive on both sides that the British government shouldn’t  worry too much about the two-year time frame set out in Article 50, as both sides have too big an incentive to always agree to extra time. I don’t think this is likely for political reasons but there is a good economic case for it.)

For the most part, you can’t really plan for no deal. There are however some things the government could prepare for. They could, for instance, start hiring additional staff for customs checks and investing in a bigger IT system to be able to handle the increased volume of work that would need to take place at the British border. It would need to begin issuing compulsory purchases to build new customs posts at ports, particularly along the 300-mile stretch of the Irish border – where Northern Ireland, outside the European Union, would immediately have a hard border with the Republic of Ireland, which would remain inside the bloc. But as Newsnight’s Christopher Cook details, the government is doing none of these things.

Now, in a way, you might say that this is a good decision on the government’s part. Frankly, these measures would only be about as useful as doing your seatbelt up before driving off the Grand Canyon. Buying up land and properties along the Irish border has the potential to cause political headaches that neither the British nor Irish governments need. However, as Cook notes, much of the government’s negotiating strategy seems to be based around convincing the EU27 that the United Kingdom might actually walk away without a deal, so not making even these inadequate plans makes a mockery of their own strategy. 

But the frothing about preparing for “no deal” ignores a far bigger problem: the government isn’t really preparing for any deal, and certainly not the one envisaged in May’s Lancaster House speech, where she set out the terms of Britain’s Brexit negotiations, or in her letter to the EU27 triggering Article 50. Just to reiterate: the government’s proposal is that the United Kingdom will leave both the single market and the customs union. Its regulations will no longer be set or enforced by the European Court of Justice or related bodies.

That means that, when Britain leaves the EU, it will need, at a minimum: to beef up the number of staff, the quality of its computer systems and the amount of physical space given over to customs checks and other assorted border work. It will need to hire its own food and standards inspectors to travel the globe checking the quality of products exported to the United Kingdom. It will need to increase the size of its own regulatory bodies.

The Foreign Office is doing some good and important work on preparing Britain’s re-entry into the World Trade Organisation as a nation with its own set of tariffs. But across the government, the level of preparation is simply not where it should be.

And all that’s assuming that May gets exactly what she wants. It’s not that the government isn’t preparing for no deal, or isn’t preparing for a bad deal. It can’t even be said to be preparing for what it believes is a great deal. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.