Page last updated at 16:16 GMT, Thursday, 10 September 2009 17:16 UK

'Wargaming' a Cameron government

By Laura Kuenssberg
Political correspondent, BBC News

OK, I don't have a crystal ball, or tarot cards, and I don't know how to read tea leaves.

But I have spent several hours holed up in an anonymous meeting room in central London trying to look to the future.

David Cameron
Will Mr Cameron repeal the hunting ban, experts wondered

A senior military commander, several well-placed Conservative advisers and a former senior adviser to Tony Blair were among the group, along with ex-civil servants and other politicos.

We had been gathered together to carry out a "war game", sketching out the first year of a potential David Cameron government.

It was an intriguing chance to hear those who have been at the heart of government, and those who aspire to be, ponder what a Cameron leadership might do.

How might they react to the inevitable, yet unpredictable, "events, dear boy", that could throw them off course.

For the purposes of the conversation it was agreed that this time next year David Cameron was likely to be prime minister, with a workable majority.

VAT questions

The brains in the bunker suggested it was very likely that George Osborne would hold an emergency Budget after the next election.

This could give political cover for some potentially unpopular decisions, for example increasing VAT to 20%.

It could also provide a starting point of an important narrative - that Labour left the nation's finances in such a mess that those "tough choices" we hear about so often will be even harder than predicted.

There is nothing like a bit of expectation management - supported by polling evidence that voters' hopes of a potential Cameron government are not high.

Also predicted was a rapid strategic defence review - something the party has already made clear is on the stocks - and a decision on Trident as part of that looms large.

Although several members of the gathered group expressed concern about the depth of talent on the current Tory front bench, it was felt that shadow defence secretary Liam Fox may not take up the defence brief as expected.

Police chiefs

There was a feeling he just might not land the job in the cabinet that he has been shadowing for years - in part at least because he is not quite one of Cameron's gang.

It was forecast that the advent of elected police chiefs may never arrive - it was said that the leadership's enthusiasm for the idea is not universally shared.

But what about things a potential Cameron government might have to do, even it it does not want to?

Well, there were heavy and well-sourced suggestions of repealing the hunting ban.

That would throw a bone to the grassroots who may tolerate a delay in any tax-cutting because of the state of the books, but who will be impatient to see rewards for their political investment.

With so many existing Tory MPs standing down, there are likely to be many newcomers - and they may not be that easy to control.
Laura Kuenssberg

Scrapping ID cards is probably also a given.

As shadow cabinet ministers already acknowledge, there will have to be cuts in public spending, even in the NHS, although overall spending on health will increase.

Facing down the unions will likely be part of the picture.

With so many existing Tory MPs standing down, there are likely to be many newcomers - and they may not be that easy to control.

But the most intriguing, and perhaps the most serious, parts of the discussion explored what might end up preoccupying a potential Conservative government.

First, the UK's relationship with the rest of the EU - which over the years has tied the party up in knots.

The Cameroons' position was summed up by some as a pick-and-mix - they may choose the bits they like, and ignore the bits they do not. Naïve perhaps?

Iranian ambitions

There were warnings in the room that new Conservative ministers might be frustrated to hear advice from civil servants on the reality of working within EU law.

In a different foreign realm, alarming scenarios were painted about Iran and its nuclear ambitions, and questions were posed as to just how seriously the Conservatives have thought through that part of their foreign policy.

Reading some of the faces round the room, there was a fear that they had not.

What of energy? There were questions about how realistic the Tories' plans to keep the lights on are.

Making any kind of prediction is a risky business.

But there were two particularly striking things.

First, there was no attempt from any former Whitehall or Labour types present to question the likelihood of a Conservative victory, and the whole conversation proceeded quite amiably on that basis.

Second, the Conservatives are well aware of how little room for manoeuvre they will have with the nation's money.

But the conversations may have served as a real reminder of just how many other situations may be beyond their control.



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