Tara Hamilton-Miller: Cameron requires a lot of backing

Was it a victory for Defence Secretary Liam Fox or a score draw?

Tara Hamilton-Miller
Tara Hamilton-Miller

In the short term, he has won by clawing back some of the defence cuts - two per cent - but in the long term, he may have lost. In the early '90s, Dr Fox was the Conservative Party heart throb. He was all black hair and shiny blue eyes and the grannies loved him.

Fox's role in the party has changed considerably. There is a lot of bad blood at Number 10 as they feel they were essentially bounced into appeasing the attack dog Defence Secretary and this will affect his future.

Fox may be comfortable, even happy, joining maverick David Davis on the back benches if it's a fight he is after. His actions have been a rallying call to the right of the party to prove they do still have a purpose and they can be effective. This will have been noted by the Prime Minister and his close team. Cameron showed he was flexible, but he had to back down, making the wise calculation - what price are these cuts when we are fighting a war?

Backbenchers report a slight change in Cameron's leadership technique. MPs say they are receiving more end-of-term letters, more invitations to Number 10. They are being given the impression they are more in the loop; a charm offensive that has been lacking for years.

The Comprehensive Spending Review this week will have its consequences and the Prime Minister needs backing. It will be a highly strategic operation.

Consider the ongoing debate about child benefit. Cameron has been searching for his Clause Four moment and has probably decided he is most effective when he defines himself against his party rather than with it (something Blair did effectively). He is aware there is a lot worse to come and he is trying to defuse in advance the great right/left argument. He went to party conference and what does he do? He squeezes his core vote, he bends 'Worcester Woman' over and gives her a good whack. He knows she isn't going anywhere else ... for the time being.

He will then be able to respond to Red Ed Miliband's future accusations of looking after his own: 'Hang on, I hit my people first, and I hit them hardest.' There is a cunning plan in there somewhere.

Tara Hamilton-Miller is a political adviser and formerly worked for the Conservative Party press team

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