He’s just acquired another one of course in former BBC producer Craig Oliver but the consensus (and it’s early days so far) is that Oliver is useless.
More noted for the array of technology he carries with him than any advice he may or not give, Oliver seems unable to persuade his boss UK coalition Prime minister David Cameron to say what the voters, his party and the media want him to.
The latest Cameroon own goal is to go in hard over immigration, saying he wants to cut down the number of newcomers to the UK from hundreds of thousands to “tens of thousands.” This at a time when his government has just cut the staff of the UK Border Agency, the body that’s supposed to keep people out, by 5,000.
And who’s taking a pot shot at him over this? Why none other than Liberal Democrat business secretary Vince Cable, recently silenced after his faux pas saying he’d declared war on Rupert Murdoch but now doubtless emboldened by Rupert’s embarrassment over News of the World phone hacking.
Cable says such cuts aren’t Lib Dem or indeed coalition policy, they’re Tory policy. Cameron says his words were ‘measured,’ which means ‘shut up Vince.’
So why does Cameron keep getting things wrong?
On the surface he’s an urbane and thoughtful performer, sounding reasonable and unflustered. It’s just that what he actually says frequently amounts to nonsense or flies against the wishes of his supporters.
He’s currently in trouble for criticising Oxford University for allowing in just one black student (when the real figure is 41, not high admittedly) and saying during a flying visit to Pakistan that the British Empire was responsible for many of the sins of the world.
Well it was responsible for some (like giving Kashmir to India when most of the population were muslims with a much greater affinity to Pakistan) but, by and large, the public schoolboys in shorts behaved better than many of the regimes that took over.
And of course he said in the US that Britain had been the junior party in the Allied wartime coalition from 1940 when the US didn’t enter the war until Pearl Harbour in December 1941. And might not have declared war on Germany even then had not the stupendously stupid Adolf Hitler declared war on the US first.
On their own these things wouldn’t amount to much but they were enough for the Daily Mail to unleash Tory dry-as-dust columnist Stephen Glover on Cameron today, suggesting Cameron wasn’t a Tory at all.
But if Cameron wants to be seen as a coalition man instead of a Tory (and some Tories do think the party doesn’t have enough of a natural constituency to win power on its own) then he shouldn’t go and make speeches about immigration that verge on Enoch Powell territory.
Oliver (pictured) may be a capable telly producer (he was apparently recommended to Cameron after Andy Coulson quit by BBC political editor Nick Robinson) but he doesn’t have the iron first in an iron glove that Tony Blair’s Alastair Campbell did and before that Bernard Ingham wielded for Margaret Thatcher.
Cameron’s other main adviser, former M&C Saatchi blue sky thinker Steve Hilton, is no use at all when it comes to the cut and thrust of daily media coverage.
But, for the most part, he kept his master Tony Blair out of trouble by, for example, saying firmly to the hacks that “we don’t do religion” when they inquired as to whether Blair’s God-bothering tendencies were influencing national policy (they clearly were).
Now maybe Cameron just isn’t as intelligent as he appears, and he’s a lost cause.
But Blair wasn’t exactly a rocket scientist and he kept things more or less on course with advice (not just from Campbell but also from John Prescott and others) for most of the time.
Expect a few more changes in Downing Street very soon.