David Maddox: Conservatives’ new communications chief has Ed Miliband in her sights

THE government reshuffle was quietly completed this week with the resident of Number 11 Downing Street finally getting a chance to take the hotseat at Number 10.

THE government reshuffle was quietly completed this week with the resident of Number 11 Downing Street finally getting a chance to take the hotseat at Number 10.

This was not, of course, the fulfilment of George Osborne’s ambition, nor David Cameron finally throwing in the towel after 14 Conservative MPs tried to trigger a leadership contest, but the departure of Larry the cat for failing to deal with the mouse problem.

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Slightly ironically, after a fortnight of hearing how Mr Cameron handles women poorly and fails to promote them properly, it seems that Larry’s replacement is a female, Freya, who belongs to the Osbornes and clearly has a far more “go-get” attitude.

But actually, amid all the fuss and bluster about the reshuffle, a far less-heralded replacement of a woman with a man just before the summer could prove to be far more significant in terms of the Conservative message and policy direction in the long run-up to the 2015 general election.

When, after many long years of service, the well-liked Henry Macrory retired he was replaced as Tory Party head of communications by Susie Squire, who represents a far more assertive and meritocratic form of Conservativism than the one which had been associated with David Cameron and the so-called “posh boys”.

Previously she was Iain Duncan Smith’s spin doctor after he became Work and Pensions Secretary and started to put his welfare reforms into practice. As a comprehensive educated lass from the Welsh city of Newport, she never hides her belief in hard work and meritocracy and was proud of her work with IDS because it gave people an incentive to look for alternatives to benefits.

But in terms of how the Tory message will be relayed, Ms Squire’s time with the Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA), which continues to set a public spending and tax-cutting agenda, may be signifiant.

For those looking for a pre-reshuffle straw in the wind her arrival was a strong hint of what ended up happening and Mr Cameron’s move to the right. The one appointment which had Ms Squire’s fingerprints on was the promotion to party chairman of the energetic Grant Shapps, who will be working most closely with her.

Rather like the TPA, especially in its early days, a Shapps/Squire partnership is likely to represent a far more agressive approach to dealing with Labour. There has been criticism that the coalition so far not done enough to expose the failure of Ed Miliband to come out with significant policies.

So it seems likely that teams of Tory “attack dog” MPs will again be recruited among ambitious backbenchers to start to expose Labour among other initiatives to put the focus back on Miliband.

And there is an opportunity for the Tories to make ground.

Even senior figures within Labour quietly admit that much of their current lead over the Tories is “soft” and based on the coalition’s unpopularity.