Lynton Crosby briefs the Cabinet. Vomit now, it will save time

OK, so Lynton Crosby is all better now so long as conditions. What are these conditions? After all, they define the limits of acceptable behaviour in our society.

It looks like he’s not allowed, or won’t be allowed, or shouldn’t have been allowed to take part in ministerial meetings or sight government documents. The interesting thing here is the definition of a ministerial meeting.

A meeting is ministerial, in the special sense, if it includes ministers and officials (i.e. permanent civil servants) and deals with government business. In this case, the civil servants will be present and will take notes, which get circulated and filed in the national archives, and may eventually be released under the Freedom of Information Act or through the so-called 30 year rule process.

But there is a process for having meetings of ministers that specifically do not involve the civil service, that don’t get minuted or archived, and that generally escape from the rules. The term-of-art is a “political” meeting.

For example, the Cabinet normally meets in its usual way, but it can also meet as a “political Cabinet”, in order to discuss purely party-political strategy rather than public policy…if you or anyone believes that. In this case, “the officials withdraw”, rather like the ladies from a rowdy aristocratic dinner in 1885, and take no official notes. One suspects that, as with the ladies, the conversation down the hall might be more interesting than in there with the port and cigars. Which would you pick?

That said, it’s worth pausing to take in the facts here.

It’s OK for lung cancer guy to brief, so long as he does it when nobody who has any responsibility beyond personal partisan interest is in the room and when nothing that is said gets into the public record. Further, it is actually better if the Tories give him more money, put him on the permanent payroll – even though they are apparently “in the process of putting the funds in place”, that is to say, passing the hat round all the people whose money has no place in our politics.

Also, it’s OK so long as he doesn’t propose policies himself. Fortunately we have the former Great Panjandrum of Policy Exchange, Nicholas “Call Me Nick” Boles, around who’s blabbed to the Daily Mirror of all papers.

Tory MP Nick Boles admitted that politicians have to win Mr Crosby’s backing for their pet schemes.

He denied claims the aide influences policy, and added: “If anything, it is we who try to lobby Lynton.”

So, he acts as a filter, a logical NOT gate. Policy is proposed to him; he vetoes it, or not. In the particular case of the unmarked cigarettes, this was of course what his client Philip Morris International was paying him to do – to prevent the progress of a policy proposal, not to introduce any.

Yes, I called him lung-cancer guy. Are you shocked? That, I think, is your problem. I can’t think of any more morally repellent profession than that of tobacco lobbyist. Can you? Most of the stuff BAE sells will never be fired in anger, and you can’t say that of cigarettes.

And we know that the Government has regularly held political Cabinets. As early as June 2010, for example. We even know that they held political Cabinets while Lynton Crosby was working for them and also working for Big Tobacco – like here, in March this year. Let’s run the tape:

It is understood that Gove did not name May but left the political cabinet in no doubt that he had the home secretary in mind after her high-profile speech at the weekend in which she spoke way beyond her formal brief and set out her thoughts on what she called the three pillars of Conservatism…

The rare personal blue-on-blue attack came hours before Tory MPs were given a stern warning by their Australian general election guru, Lynton Crosby, in front of Cameron, to decide whether they want to act as “commentators” on Twitter or “participants” in the runup to voting in 2015.

At a meeting of the Conservative parliamentary party, Crosby, who is a famed disciplinarian, said the general election was eminently winnable…

OK, so they held a political cabinet to decide strategy and had a hell of a row. Later in the day, they held a meeting of the Conservatives in Parliament, at which Crosby briefed. Presumably, the point of having a political cabinet and then a parliamentary party meeting would be to decide things and then communicate them to the MPs, or to come up with something and then consult the MPs’ opinion.

Is it credible that Crosby, their doubtless expensive polling and spin expert, would have been consulted by the MPs but not by the ministers? Is it credible that, having based your strategy on his wisdom, that you wouldn’t use some of his talking points to convince your MPs of it?

Is it credible that Nicholas Watt is unaware of his own reporting from a couple of months back, and hasn’t searched for “political cabinet” “Lynton Crosby” site:guardian.co.uk?

That last one surely is, I’m afraid. Andrew Sparrow links to the Weekly Boris:

Last week, Lynton Crosby told the Tories’ political cabinet how the party would undermine Labour between now and the next election. The Australian strategist explained that the two main lines of attack were going to be that Labour hasn’t changed — ‘same old Labour’ — and that Miliband is weak. It was testament to Crosby’s dominance over the party machine that no Cabinet minister queried his analysis. I understand that the precise phrase ‘same old Labour’ was Cameron’s suggestion

Awww, they’re still all het up about “New Labour, New Danger”, aren’t they? But more to the point, yes. Fag-Ash Crosby regularly briefs the Cabinet. This is apparently acceptable behaviour in Britain. Sir Jeremy Heywood says so, and this hurts because I have great respect for the civil service.

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