Conservative Party Patronage


Friday, July 4th, 2008. 11:44pm

Does Boris Johnston have a subscription to the Private Eye? Perhaps given his connections with the Spectator he might avoid the faux-pas of being seen on the Eye’s subscriber list, but then if he had been reading it he might have avoided the more serious disaster which befell him today when his Deputy Mayor, Ray Lewis was forced to resign as a barrage of deception surrounding him was exposed. A couple of weeks ago the Private-Eye drew attention to the fact Lewis was being described by Boris and his team as an ex. Prison Governor, when in fact he’d only been a trainee with a rather grandiose title of “deputy governor”. When I read Private Eye I often wonder if my elected representatives are reading it and acting on it; as it appears they’re not – perhaps we should all buy our representatives a subscription?

The power of patronage, the ability to appoint other unelected individuals into positions of power in administrations, is a critical part of the roles of many holding elected office at all levels from Councillors, though to the Prime Minister. As electors we have to try and judge how candidates would be likely to use this power when elected. When David Cameron became leader of the conservatives he showed his weakness in this area by appointing a bunch of people who had also been to his old school, Eton, 14 of his front bench spokesmen were old Etonians. Cameron has often stated that he sees his ability to: “put a team together” as one of his key qualifications for the role of Prime Minister. While each of these individuals were MPs and as such had significant individual electoral mandates (though perhaps they are devalued if they’re standing in “safe seats”), the numbers involved did make me question if the appointments were being made on merit.

For me the appointment of Sam Roake, as “head of web strategy” responsible for among other things webcameron website was another clear early warning that this patronage was being misused, and the individuals appointed being misdescribed. Just as Boris’s appointee Ray Lewis was misdescribed as, among other misdescriptions, a prison governor, Roake was described as a “Google Staffer”, or “Googler”. Just as Lewis’ description might not be technically inaccurate the impression given was one of a senior individual from Google moving over (often the term “poached” was used) to the Cameron team to advise them on web strategy, in fact this individual was revealed to have been a Google ‘maximiser’ – Sam Roake wrote the copy for users of AdWords. Mr Roake totally missed the point of many of the technologies he was supposed to be promoting, he didn’t listen to users of the original webcameron site, he didn’t utilise the expertise available in the user-base to improve the site. Once Cameron did eventually start to take the web a little more seriously, it appears Roake and his incarnation of webcameron, along with much of its content including questions, answers and policy announcements from David Cameron were unceremoniously dumped. While dropping Roake was a good decision, throwing away the content, much of it user generated was a bad decision showing Roake had not managed to get accross to his masters what his site was facilitating.

If anyone reading this is thinking patronage isn’t that important – I’ll just say: “Alistair Campbell”.

What the Private Eye Subscription form would look like if someone bought one for Boris:

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