One of David Cameron's closest advisers has admitted he spends most of his time on "day-to-day crisis management".
Oliver Dowden, the deputy chief of staff who is in charge of domestic affairs, told a US broadcaster he is often "surprised" by events.
And he raised eyebrows by saying he only found out the daily political agenda by listening to the news on the radio first thing every morning.
The comments, made as part of a series called World Denver Talks , will deepen concerns about the political operation in Downing Street.
Fears of a lack of control have increased after the Andrew Mitchell row was allowed to rumble on for a month before the Chief Whip finally quit on Friday.
There are also concerns about a lack of attention to detail after Mr Cameron's comments about energy policy in PMQs, which later had to be clarified.
Senior Cabinet ministers are now warning that the "incompetence" within Number 10 could cost the Tories the next election.
Mr Dowden, who is nicknamed "Olive" by the Tory inner circle, gave an interview last month about the coalition and his role within the Government.
He said: "Most of my time is spent with day-to-day crisis management. That's the term we use."
Laughing, he added: "We're not permanently in crisis - but dealing with all the issues that arise on a day-to-day basis.
"The first thing I do in the morning, if I'm not woken up by my very young children, I turn on the Today programme, hear what is going on.
"Hopefully we will have some sense of what is coming up anyway but often you will get surprised by what is going on."
In a possible reference to the "Plebgate" saga, he added: "I'm surprised on a day-to-day basis. There is no accounting for the conduct of individuals."
Mr Dowden described his own job as finding out "what is going on politically for the Prime Minister and working out with him how to respond to it".
Of coalition government, he said: "For people like myself who are very strong Conservatives, it's been a real learning experience."
The insight into Number 10 comes after a week which should have seen the Government able to trumpet falls in unemployment, crime and NHS waiting times.
But instead it was still battling the fallout from "Plebgate" and then created fresh problems by sowing confusion about action on energy prices.
Former News Of The World editor Andy Coulson was communications chief when Mr Cameron entered Number 10 but was forced to quit because of the phone hacking scandal.
His position was taken by Craig Oliver, who moved from BBC Global News.
The PM's key strategist Steve Hilton also left earlier this year after deciding to take a year out to be with his family in California.
One Cabinet minister told The Telegraph: "We will be judged on this incompetence. Margaret Thatcher was not liked but she was backed by the public because she was seen as effective."
Tory grandee Lord Tebbit said on Sunday: "This dog of a coalition Government has let itself be given a bad name and now anybody can beat it."
Mr Cameron, visiting Wormwood Scrubs prison on Monday, defended his decision not to sack Mr Mitchell - insisting that would have been the easy option.
"It is the easiest thing in the world if you are Prime Minister just to fire someone if something goes wrong," he said.
"It's much easier, keeps all of you in the press very happy. You make your point, someone is fired. That is not the right way to behave as Prime Minister."