Number 10 comms chiefs face 'strong arm' claims

Tory MPs have insisted that some of their colleagues should be free to criticise government policy without being 'strong-armed' by Number 10 comms chiefs.

Steve Hilton: strategy director (Rex Features)
Steve Hilton: strategy director (Rex Features)

BBC cameras this week filmed Downing Street strategy director Steve Hilton and comms director Craig Oliver taking an off-message Tory MP aside for a private discussion.

Andrew Tyrie, the Conservative chairman of the Treasury Select Committee, had described the Chancellor's growth plans as 'incoherent and inconsistent' at the weekend.

He was tracked down by Hilton and Oliver as he prepared to speak to the BBC following George Osborne's keynote speech. Tyrie then praised Osborne's plans for the economy in his BBC interview.

Responding to the episode, Tory backbencher Margot James said: 'I don't like what he said but ... he's an independent chair of a select committee, so it's not appropriate for people to be strong-arming him, if that was the implication.'

Tory minister Chris Grayling said: 'I don't agree with what he said, but there is a long and proud tradition of select committees being thorns in the side of government ...

On many occasions, we'll be scrutinised forensically by select committees. It's our job to be able to respond and win the arguments.'

Also read: David Willetts reveals Cabinet's comms strategy at Conservative Party conference

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