Tory bungling is headache for PM

Shortcomings in the Number 10 operation have long been noted by Whitehall watchers, but after the latest disastrous week it is not inconceivable they could threaten the survival of the Prime Minister himself.

John Woodcock: 'Backbenchers will not be amused by the joke The Thick of It is ending as its satire can no longer compete with reality.'
John Woodcock: 'Backbenchers will not be amused by the joke The Thick of It is ending as its satire can no longer compete with reality.'

It is as yet unclear how worried David Cameron should be by the palpable anger from his rank and file over the accumulation of bungling, brought into sharp focus by the month-long slow-motion bike crash of chief whip Andrew Mitchell's resignation. While there will be plenty of gallows humour in the tearoom, government backbenchers with slender majorities will not be amused by the joke that The Thick of It is ending because its satire can no longer compete with reality.

Certainly, the fact that unnamed Tories are speculating that Cameron could be a 'loser' is significant given the Conservatives' history of dealing ruthlessly with leaders they think are not up to the job. It is also significant that newspapers that backed him wholeheartedly at the election are fuelling doubt.

Tory strategists are hoping an expected upturn in previously dire economic figures in certain areas can break the relentless media narrative of failure. This line is being briefed to receptive commentators. Yet hopes that a welcome economic improvement may lead to political salvation could rely too heavily on people being prepared to overlook how far things have gone backwards since the Government took the reins.

The PM may well heed calls for a major rejig of his Downing Street operation. Beleaguered staff may console themselves that advisers are often an early proxy target for critics who do not yet feel brave enough to attack the leader openly. But just because they sometimes unfairly bear the brunt does not mean it is undeserved this time, given the torrent of basic errors resulting in needless problems. True friends of the PM will be hoping this new strategy of making the leader of the country an omnipresent talking head is ditched along with whatever adviser thought it up. The previous occupier of Number 10 fell back on that tactic when things were difficult; it did not do him any good either.

John Woodcock is Labour MP for Barrow and Furness, and a former spokesman for ex-prime minister Gordon Brown.

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