David Maddox: PM risks being judged on company he keeps

DAVID Cameron is in a spot of bother again over whom he has allowed himself to get close to and given full access to Downing Street and the workings of government.

Prime Minister David Cameron. Picture: Getty
Prime Minister David Cameron. Picture: Getty

This time it is the lobbyist and Australian election-winning specialist Lynton Crosby who is the man behind the “below the radar strategy” which is beginning to pay dividends for the Tories, as they rapidly close the gap with Labour. Among other things, Mr Crosby focused the Tory machine on the union link with Labour, which has now frightened Ed Miliband into a potentially suicidal position of changing the party rules and ending up to £9 million of annual funding.

But, there is a problem with Mr Crosby; the Conservative Party is not his only client. It seems his company, which relies on focus groups to build strategies, is also working for tobacco and alcohol interests. And, lo and behold, the Tory party of the coalition has dropped plans for plain packaging of tobacco products and minimum pricing for alcohol in England.

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“Coincidence!” the Tories claim. “Crosby only speaks to the Prime Minister about election strategy.” Yet the doubts remain, except maybe in the minds of those with the most blue-tinted glasses.

But, this is not the first time that the Prime Minister has allowed somebody into Downing Street with questionable credentials, as we all remember.

The former News of the World editor Andy Coulson, now facing prosecution over alleged phone hacking and bribery at the newspaper during his watch, was also a very close adviser to Mr Cameron and also brought into the heart of Downing Street.

The Prime Minister is, some say, beginning to look like the cliché of a Hollywood leading lady who only falls for the bad guys.

Yet Mr Cameron stuck with Mr Coulson through thick and thin until the Milly Dowler revelations made the position untenable. Now he is doing the same for Mr Crosby. But why?

The answer is simple. Mr Cameron wants to win the 2015 election at all costs and these were both men who could help him deliver the outright victory denied by voters in 2010.

Mr Crosby is a driven arch-strategist, while since Coulson’s departure the leadership has not been so clear with its message and lost an important link between Mr Cameron’s Etonian set and the aspirational classes.

The trouble is that people often judge their politicians by the company they keep. While Mr Cameron took a little credit for standing by a friend during the Coulson fiasco, the decision to bring him into Downing Street was hugely damaging. If the allegations against Mr Crosby get legs then he could find himself in a similar situation.

Mr Cameron is fond of quoting Winston Churchill. One quote which he should perhaps remember from the great wartime leader is: “All men make mistakes, but only wise men learn from their mistakes.”