Westminster insiders on both sides of the aisle were in rare unanimity on Thursday: Allegra Stratton is taking on one of the most difficult roles in government. Bad job, said a sympathetic union adviser.
The 39-year-old former broadcaster, currently an advisor to Chancellor Rishi Sunak, will soon be officially announced as the face of Downing Streets’ new daily televised press briefings, becoming a high-profile spokesperson for the Prime Minister.
His appointment follows months of speculation over who would take on the White House briefings after Downing Street announced the role in July. Discussing the creation of the TV briefings, Johnson said: We think people want direct engagement and want things from us and so they were going to try that I will come back every now and then, I did no doubt.
A senior Tory claimed Johnson personally asked Stratton more than once to become the public face of his beleaguered government before finally agreeing.
If Stratton hesitated, that would be understandable. The new role will be to explain every move to governments as they battle to deal with an unprecedented public health emergency.
When audiences think of budding doctors, Malcolm Tucker in The Thick of It probably comes to mind: but the lovable, loathsome character Peter Capaldis could exercise the dark arts of political communication behind closed doors. Stratton will be on display to the public, as political journalists question her about the ministers’ latest missteps and maneuvers.
And it comes at a time when the government is under siege by reluctant backbenchers skeptical of Covid restrictions and facing strong criticism of how they are communicated.
In the past 10 days alone, Johnson has spoken poorly about restrictions in the northeast (after young minister Gillian Keegan was also unable to say what the rules were) and was interviewed with the ITV Hannah Miller in which he couldn’t tell if Oldham was tighter. rules than the rest of Greater Manchester.
During the lobby briefing after Johnsons’ new Jerusalem party conference speech on Tuesday, its spokesperson faced a rough patch as each question from reporters seeking more details on the policies scattered throughout the speech on the financing of social services, 95% of value-added mortgages, digital identifiers have been encountered you have the words of the Prime Minister.
And on Thursday, details leaked of tougher curbs due to be brought to much of northern England next week infuriated local leaders, who had yet to be properly consulted.
There are currently two daily lobby briefings for political journalists, which are recorded but take place behind closed doors. One of them will be replaced by the new televised briefing. The daily lobby briefings have been taped directly by reporters since Tony Blairs’ communications director, Alistair Campbell, sought to make them more accessible.
But they continued to be held behind closed doors more recently at 9 Downing Street, before the coronavirus forced them to go virtual.
The briefings are currently being taken by Johnsons official spokesperson James Slack, the former political editor of the Daily Mail who did the same job for Theresa May. He should be promoted to a more strategic role.
Strattons’ post is part of a reshuffle organized by Johnsons communications director Lee Cain, who increasingly centralizes government communications in Downing Street, and intends to drastically reduce the number of officials dealing with the hurry. Cain has a large room set up at 9 Downing Street as a new broadcast studio for the briefings.
Downing Street is hoping the public will welcome Stratton and that images of the briefings appear in evening news reports, as clips from the daily coronavirus press conferences regularly did during the lockdown.
Stratton is a Cambridge University graduate whose move to the Chancellors’ Director of Strategic Communications in April follows a successful career in journalism.
She started as a producer at the BBC, followed by a stint as a political correspondent at the Guardian. In 2012, she joined the BBC when she became political editor of Newsnights. She was appointed national editor of ITV News at the end of 2015 and also co-hosted ITV Peston on Sunday.
In an interview with The Telegraph in 2016, Stratton explained how she refused to appear on the infamous Newsnight 2012 show which wrongly linked former Conservative Party Treasurer Lord McAlpine to historic false allegations of sexual abuse on children.
I was jogging on my day off when my editor called me on my mobile and asked me to come in and back in the studio, recalls Stratton. I thought about it a lot, but I was not convinced by the story and, having expressed my concerns, I decided not to participate. I was right, but I hesitate to say the same because this story ruined my career as an editor.
In 2013, Stratton told the Evening Standard that his heroes were 19th-century author George Eliot, ex-BBC journalist Stephanie Flanders and comedian, comedian and writer Tina Fey. When asked if she had ever had an argument with the police, she replied to the newspaper: Yes, but I was with them, not against them. It was after the riots and chubby young people were trying to fight with the police and I intervened to defend them.
She also cited her favorite find as the cupboard in the House of Commons crypt where suffragist Emily Davison hid on census night in 1911 so that she could say her address was the House of Commons.
Stratton married James Forsyth, the political editor of Spectator magazine, which the Prime Minister used to edit, in 2011 in a ceremony where Sunak was the witness.