The Daily Telegraph publishes today numbers 1-25 in its Top 100 Influential People on the Right compiled by Brian Brivati and me with an expert panel.
Today's installment includes Eric Pickles at number 6, IDS up to 15, Francis Maude up to 4 and a surprising new entry at number 3.
This time last year David Cameron looked set to be master of all he surveyed. The political year did not quite turn out like that but he forged a Coalition and has made a commanding start to his tenure in Number Ten. As Gordon Brown seemed to shrink which each day he was office, so Cameron has grown into the job. This, combined with the strength of the younger members of his team, Osborne growing into the job, (steady at 2) Gove though faltering at times sticking to his guns, (down from 9 to 13), his chief of staff Edward Llewellyn (up from 9 to 5) and the resilience of the old timers, means Cameron is looking increasingly likely to get his five years.
The old timers have certainly played their part. There are second and in some cases third acts in politics. Look at the top twenty: Francis Maude, Iain Duncan Smith, Theresa May, Kenneth Clarke – very little new generation material here. However, what a luxury for a PM to be able to hand over tricky areas to an experienced team.
Lower down the list the internal opposition is mustering their forces. So long as the agenda remains fixed on deficit reduction, the Euro-sceptics and the neo-liberals will be held at bay. For now they seem to have judged that Cameron’s progressive rhetoric was actually more or less in tune with their own direction of travel.
A good barometer of this is Matthew Elliott who has held his ranking even if he has changed position. As the Conservatives went into power you might have expected a pressure group like the Taxpayers' Alliance to fade but they have not. Now Elliott has moved to lead the No to AV campaign, his influence remains potent.
The Liberal Democrat David Laws, recently defenestrated from the government over his private life, remains a powerful figure and more popular in the Conservative Party than in his own. He will return to government but the question many ask is if it will be a Liberal Democrat or a Conservative who will make way. And would it make any difference which it was?
That the smooth intellectual style of David Laws sits in the same coalition as the forceful bulk of Eric Pickles, shows that just because something can fit together does not mean it will make a pleasing match - think of the platypus. How things look do not actually matter all that much. What works is what counts. That will determine how long the coalition lasts.
Arriving in the mid 20s comes Graham Brady, the sometimes wayward head of the 1922 committee, who is responsible for understanding the motives of any rebels and then transmitting their concerns to the leadership. Delivering during the Coalition talks, he is going from strength to strength. He will need all his personal and political skills to keep the Coalition going as the impact of cuts bite in the new year beyond and some of the weaker minded Conservative MPs start to buckle under pressure.
The biggest falls within the 100 are Stephan Shakespeare who has fallen 46 places and Michael Spencer who dropped 74 places to 86. Both had money and seemed to be key players in the lead-up to the election. Neither has proved substantial elements in the Coalition building process or now in government. Philip Blond, head of the ResPublica think tanks, is a controversial omission from this year’s list – a vote had to be taken among the panel and he narrowly lost out due to his apparent overselling of his own and his organisation’s influence on the Cameron inner circle.
Dropping out of the top 100 for the first time since this list began are the Lords Trimble and Hurd. The Conservatives have their own new generation coming through the ranks. Bucking the trend of fading oldies comes Ken Clarke, on the outside always a marshmallow, while on the inside and when running a Ministry a highly effective executive decision maker. His elevation is also reassuring to the pro-European wing of the party.
Some people allege that Conservative governments are born with hubris, while Labour governments acquire hubris over time. Cameron’s managerialism as statecraft has managed to inject a humility into the return of the Conservatives above and beyond that which the failure to win a majority represents. There is an ideological heart to this government but for now it is masked. This is in part because the central team is simply not sure how far it can go and because their communicators - Steve Hilton for example, who has slipped down a little to 10 - have mainly been experts in the optimism of opposition.
Most of the messaging that was planned has not been used and while they search for good news, it is the older generation who get the Today progamme interviews and lay out just how tough things are going to get. This might alter but the challenge for this government, reflected and defined by the rising and fallings on this list, will be to define itself more clearly in terms of what it is for as well as what it is against.
As that positive agenda begins to unfold, it could allow the rebels, the Euro-sceptics and others to galvanise the internal opposition to the Cameron project. But it is highly doubtful whether internal opposition will be any more successful over the next four years than it has been in the last four.
This year the Lib Dems dealt with the trauma of power, as Labour delivered a psycho drama about the loss of power. The Conservatives have simply not been that interesting: they have regained power and enjoyed it. The next year will tell if they have used it wisely.