Number 10 comms director role could be split after Andy Coulson resignation

Top Downing Street comms post may now be split into two as Cameron considers life after Coulson

Leaving Downing Street: Andy Coulson
Leaving Downing Street: Andy Coulson

The Prime Minister could respond to the resignation of his comms director Andy Coulson by splitting the role in two - appointing a civil servant to oversee the comms operation and a senior political adviser to manage the media.

Such a move would see David Cameron reverting to the set-up employed by previous PM Gordon Brown.

Former Downing Street head of strategic comms Mark Flanagan told PRWeek this arrangement would make sense given the competing demands of the comms director job.

Number 10 sources suggested that the option was being actively considered this week, noting that the PM's official spokesman Steve Field could handle an extended civil service director of comms role.

One source said: 'I wouldn't rule out having a civil service director of comms. It's on the table. But you also beef up the press role so you have a senior political press person in a strategic role.'

On the media side, a number of current and former journalists have been touted as candidates to replace Coulson (see below). Of those, Downing Street insiders believe former Independent deputy editor Ian Birrell is the most credible - largely due to his links with Cameron and Number 10 strategy director Steve Hilton.

Number 10 sources suggested that current Downing Street aides would be wary of the PM attempting to bring an outsider into the inner circle: 'Trying to introduce somebody into the top team is difficult, because it's family,' one said.

But the source also stressed that Cameron would be keen to hire someone with an understanding of the popular press: 'There's a general view that the reason George Osborne brought in Andy was to have someone who could translate the Government's objectives into a retail offer for the C1 and C2s. That is something in short supply without Andy. People like Osborne are sensitive to that and are looking at who can deliver that.'

Meanwhile, Simon Lewis, former Number 10 comms director, said that Cameron could afford to take his time. He told PRWeek: 'Downing Street has an impressive press operation that will continue to deal effectively with the day-to-day issues.'

 

HOW I SEE IT

JONATHAN OLIVER, DIRECTOR OF MEDIA RELATIONS, TLG

The Andy Coulson affair has put a strain on the relationship between Number 10 and the political media. Those deputed to speak for Andy were put in the position of having to deny he was under pressure - just days before he walked.

The atmosphere in the Press Gallery is not yet as poisonous as it was before Alastair Campbell's resignation in 2003. However, David Cameron should be mindful of the parallels and promote a non-political career civil servant to fill some of Andy's duties.

There will still be the need to recruit a senior figure to advise on strategic political media, the bookies suggesting a small list of flamboyant former political journalists. Such figures can provide a boost for leaders of the opposition. But PMs can benefit little from spin doctors who are predestined to become stories of their own.

Oliver is a former political editor of the Sunday Times

 

MARK FLANAGAN, PARTNER, PORTLAND

The worst thing David Cameron should do is look for a Coulson clone. Just as Labour replaced Alastair Campbell with the understated David Hill, the Conservatives should look to its own ranks for someone able to step quickly and quietly. They could do worse than recall Henry Macrory from CCHQ, who combines Daily Mail instincts with an avuncular manner.

As well as managing the media, the Number 10 director of comms has to be an astute manager of people and resources. Coulson earned the respect of Liberal Democrat special advisers and the civil service press team. Downing Street has set itself stiff efficiency targets and the appointee will need an iron will to drive this through.

To do all of this effectively, I would suggest appointing a civil servant to run the operation and a senior political adviser to brief the media.

Flanagan is a former head of strategic and digital comms in Downing Street.

 

IN THE FRAME

- George Pascoe-Watson Former political editor of The Sun, now at Portland. Knows the tabloids inside out

- Ian Birrell Former deputy editor of The Independent is close to both David Cameron and Steve Hilton

- Guto Harri Former BBC journalist was eyed for Coulson's job in 2007. Now Boris Johnson's comms chief

- Henry Macrory Long-serving Tory media adviser is rated by hacks. Could take a more strategic role

- Steve Field PM's spokesman is well regarded and could see his civil service role enlarged.

 

 

2.5/1 - Odds on Ian Birrell replacing Andy Coulson

4/1 - Odds on Guto Harri replacing Andy Coulson

6/1 - Odds on George Pascoe-Watson replacing Andy Coulson

7/1 - Odds on TV journalist Tom Bradby replacing Andy Coulson

Source: Labrokes (as of 25 January)


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