David Cameron puts friends in high places to prepare party for poll
Francis Elliott, Deputy Political Editor

David Cameron will strengthen his grip on the Conservative Party today with the appointment of one of his closest friends as its chief executive.

Andrew Feldman, currently a deputy treasurer, will take charge of the party’s national headquarters from July, The Times has learnt. The Tory leader is thought to have assured Caroline Spelman, the party chairman, that she will retain control of the voluntary sector and candidates and that Mr Feldman will report to her.

Mr Cameron has been seeking to persuade his friend, who helps to run a family textile business, to take a more active role in managing the party machine since he was elected in 2005.

Mr Cameron’s need for a trusted figure to bridge the political and administrative functions of the party’s HQ has become more acute as it gears up for a general election. He finally managed to persuade his friend to take the job over the weekend.

Mr Feldman will work three days a week in the newly created post of chief executive and have no say over political direction or communication. He will, however, take total control over the party’s national HQ in Millbank, London, and its 200 staff.

It is expected that he will oversee a rapid expansion in the coming months after conducting an initial audit of its operation. That could lead to tension with Lord Ashcroft, who negotiated with Mr Cameron to bring his own “target seats” operation inside Conservative HQ last year, and who still pays the wages of a number of staff.

Mr Cameron is understood to want to bring a more businesslike culture to his party’s operation and to reduce duplication and waste.

Mr Feldman became friends with Mr Cameron at Brasenose College, Oxford, where the pair helped to organise its May ball. He was one of the key figures in persuading him to run for the leadership, introducing him to Lord Harris of Peckham, who financed his campaign, and he has remained one of his most generous backers. When Mr Cameron was elected he agreed to serve as a deputy treasurer and is credited with helping to broaden the party’s funding base, introducing scores of new, wealthy donors.

The appointment is the latest sign that the Tory leader is switching his attention from policy development to organisational reform.

He has asked Francis Maude to take advice from retired permanent secretaries and former ministers on how a Cameron administration could hit the ground running. Mr Maude is thought to be preparing a paper that will advise on how to manage civil servants and deal with the media.

Boris Johnson’s victory in the London mayoral race is likely to lead to some of the Conservative HQ’s most senior staff being sent to City Hall. James McGrath, Mr Maude’s former chief-of-staff seconded to the Johnson campaign, is among those who are likely to gain hands-on experience of administration with the new mayor.