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Who knifed Allegra Stratton? New No10 communications chief takes charge as TV star’s daily briefings are axed after Dominic Cummings’ ‘Brexit Boys’ lost brutal civil war with Team Carrie
- Downing Street director of communications Jack Doyle is now heading comms
- After a changing of the guard plans for the televised briefings have been killed
- Stratton is doing communications for November’s COP26 climate summit
The shunting aside of Allegra Stratton at Number 10 has cleared the stage for one of Boris Johnson’s top aides to take control of the press operation, in the wake of infighting between allies of deposed Brexit guru Dominic Cummings and the PM’s fiancée Carrie Symonds.
Downing Street director of communications Jack Doyle is now the central figure steering Government messaging after Stratton was given a reduced role.
The pair were both survivors of last year’s internal clashes and were set to co-manage No 10 communications – Stratton would front the new briefings while Doyle concentrated on strategy.
The idea for the daily press briefings are understood to have been the brainchild of Cummings ally Lee Cain, and the ousting of Stratton marks the culmination of the so-called Brexit Boys’ defeat in the battle for control of Number 10.
But after a changing of the guard – during which Doyle has been promoted twice while numerous other advisors have left Number 10 – the plans for the televised appearances have now been killed despite a £2.6million bill for the set.
Last night it was announced former BBC and Guardian journalist Stratton would be leaving the role without having uttered a single word to camera.
While recently there have been whispers of a falling-out between Symonds and Stratton, the former ITV national editor was hired by Number 10 against the wishes of Cain and Cummings who lobbied for an alternative candidate.
Stratton was portrayed in the press as an ally of Symonds at a time when the factionalism between the two warring camps was nearing its peak.
But Cummings was ousted from Downing Street in November amid acrimony with the Prime Minister’s wife Ms Symonds and close ally Mr Cain followed him soon after.
Since then the hierarchy in Number 10 has changed dramatically with former banker Dan Rosenfield brought in as chief of staff, one rung above Doyle, who takes Cain’s old job.
Now Stratton has taken up a new post running communications for November’s COP26 summit, which a Downing Street source insisted was a ‘great job’ as climate change was ‘a huge global issue and massive priority for the PM’.
Downing Street director of communications Jack Doyle is the central figure steering Government messaging
Last night it was announced former ITV and BBC journalist Allegra Stratton would be leaving the role without having uttered a single word to camera
Ministers and officials will instead continue to host briefings in the £2.6million room
Born out of the regular coronavirus news conferences, the televised briefings were the brainchild of former Downing Street director of communications Cain.
At the time Cain, Dominic Cummings and Brexiteer allies were ruling the roost at No10 and adopting the aggressive tactics embraced by Vote Leave.
Cain’s plan was widely seen as a move to water down the influence of political journalists and communicate directly to voters.
One of the twice daily behind-closed-door briefings to Lobby reporters would involve a government spokesperson fielding questions live on TV, akin to Washington.
Attention turned to who would front the briefings – a powerful role that would afford direct access to the PM and a bigger profile than most Cabinet ministers.
The job was advertised publicly, but two front-runners were identified: Stratton, then at the Treasury as Rishi Sunak’s PR guru, and BBC political reporter Ellie Price.
Born out of the regular coronavirus news conferences, they were the brainchild of former Downing Street director of communications Lee Cain (left). At the time Cain, Dominic Cummings (right) and a clutch of Brexiteer allies were ruling the roost at No10 and adopting the aggressive tactics embraced by Vote Leave
The PM’s fiancée Carrie Symonds pictured walking in central London today
Cummings, Cain and the Vote Leave faction wanted to install Price and lobbied for her appointment, but Stratton herself had an influential champion: the PM’s fiancée, Carrie Symonds.
Stratton was appointed Downing Street press secretary in October 2020 and aligned herself with Symonds’s agenda for a less combative operation.
She was due to present her first press conference that November, but the second wave of coronavirus put paid to the launch.
At the same time, the wrangling over Stratton’s appointment had ignited bitter infighting inside No10 that soon escalated into an all-out briefing war.
With Downing Street in a tailspin, the PM sought to seize control and both Cummings and Cain were gone in quick succession.
Their departures – reports vary whether Cummings was sacked or quit – triggered a shake-up of No10’s top team at the start of January.
Munira Mirza remained as head of the policy unit (pictured in Downing Street last year)
James Slack was promoted from the PM’s official spokesperson to the director of communications
Slack was promoted from the PM’s official spokesperson to the director of communications, with Doyle as his deputy.
Rosenfield was parachuted in as chief of staff to help fill the vacuum left by Cummings, and Munira Mirza remained as head of the policy unit.
Stratton remained a core member of this inner circle and spoke on the PM’s behalf at lobby briefings, but the hotly anticipated televised briefings were in flux.
Although the media suite in No 9 Downing Street was still being built at the cost of £2.6million, the new guard in No 10 had cooled on the prospect.
As ministers and scientists continued to take centre stage at press conferences, the enthusiasm for the White House-style briefings eventually dried up.
This month Doyle was promoted to director of communications following the departure of Slack to the Sun, and the decision was made to abandon the briefings.
Tory MPs today vented fury that the elaborate media suite was signed off to begin with.
One Tory MP said: ‘It should have been blatantly obvious that when there are bad days it would be very uncomfortable for the press secretary to stand there and face hostile questions. It is incredible that this was not thought through at the outset.’
Another former minister said: ‘It was always a slightly dangerous thing. You are sending out a lamb to the slaughter… It was a really bad idea. Now it seems to be a blue elephant.’
The MP added of Ms Stratton: ‘She is not going to hang around, is she.’
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