By Ian Silvera
Everything but the erection of a big plastic banner – restaurant-style – has been done to spell-out that Number 10 is ‘under new management’.
For those not familiar with the noisy handover, Team Carrie (Symonds) has prevailed over Team Dom (Cummings) in Downing Street, with Boris Johnson’s partner earning herself a new title of Tory ‘power broker’ thanks to the ejection of Cummings and close ally Lee Cain.
Cummings & Cain were part of the core senior team behind Vote Leave and they bought their campaigning zeal into Number 10 with them. Their media relations approach, among other things, saw one of the UK’s most popular shows, ITV’s Good Morning Britain, being boycotted by the government.
With experienced journalist Allegra Stratton (ITV, BBC and The Guardian) now succeeding Cain as director of communications, the ban has been lifted and Health Secretary Matt Hancock subsequently faced a grilling from Piers Morgan earlier in the week on the government’s Covid-19 response.
Stratton showed more of her hand when the government’s 10-point green infrastructure plan was announced in an opinion piece for the FT, the premier business title that has taken an anti-Brexit stance in the past.
Johnson’s article for the outlet was his debut piece as Prime Minister and it follows the Pink ‘Un’s own change of guard as Lionel Barber was replaced as Editor by Roula Khalaf at the start of the year.
Number 10’s final re-worked media relations flurry, at least for this week, was Stratton’s appearance among the Lobby, typically the most senior political correspondents in the land. These meetings, once held in an undersized room in one of the towers of the Palace of Westminster, have been shrouded in pseudo-secrecy.
By convention, the journalists wouldn’t name the spokesperson. However, in what some Lobby sources have described as a “marked difference”, Stratton went on-the-record and exclaimed via video call that the media has had “a very good and power role” during the pandemic.
Her next out-of-the-shadows exercise will be to hold TV briefings from next year. The Lobby has been receptive so far, but there are rather large black clouds hanging over the ‘new management’ team, namely Brexit, the Covid-19 comeback and local, regional and devolved elections next year, with SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon threatening another referendum if her party seizes power once again at Holyrood.
There’s plenty of peril ahead for Johnson, Stratton and the new media relations strategy. Even if you literally save their lives (as was the case when John Major stopped Chris Moncrieff falling off the Great Wall of China), the British media can still be a mercelious bunch.