Press seeks revised No 10 briefings after Steve Field exit

Downing Street has been urged to use the hunt for Steve Field's replacement as chance to rethink daily briefings.

US bound: Steve Field will join the International Monetary Fund (Credit, Rex Features)
US bound: Steve Field will join the International Monetary Fund (Credit, Rex Features)

As Downing Street launches a hunt for a new Prime Minister's official spokesperson, political journalists have called for lobby briefings to be revised.

A replacement will be sought from within Whitehall, after Steve Field leaves for a new role at the International Monetary Fund in Washington, DC later this year.

But lobby journalists have suggested that Downing Street should take the opportunity to rethink the way it handles the daily lobby briefings, currently led by Field.

One lobby source said: 'I don't see why at least one of the briefings could not be on camera. It would improve the quality of the debate in the lobby, which can be pretty semantic on both sides.

'It would also expose Downing Street refusing to answer questions, which is impossible at the moment.'

Downing Street has previously pledged to review the format of the daily lobby briefings, but no major changes have been carried out.

The Guardian's political editor, Patrick Wintour, suggested that the role would be improved if there was a greater ability for the spokesperson to deal with the political dimensions of stories, as Field always told reporters: 'I don't do politics.'

Tim Shipman, chairman of the Parliamentary Press Gallery, agreed, suggesting that while the appointment should not be political, the best official spokespeople were 'happy to dwell in the shades of grey between the civil service and special advisers'.

However, Downing Street stated that there were no plans to revise the role of the spokesperson or lobby briefings, and that it would be a case of 'replacing like with like'.

Shipman suggested that Treasury head of press Jean-Christophe Gray, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office's head of news and digital Carl Newns, or Home Office comms head Simon Wren could do the job effectively.

Field's deputy, Vickie Sheriff, and the Deputy Prime Minister's head of comms, James Sorene, have also been named as potential replacements.

Downing Street declined to comment on potential candidates, noting only 'there are a few names floating around'.

It is expected to make use of the party conference season lull to appoint a successor from within Whitehall.

There are no planned changes to the role or the structure of the Downing Street comms unit.

HOW I SEE IT

Tim Shipman, Chairman, Parliamentary Press Gallery

Steve Field will be a hard act to follow. During my 11 years in the lobby, he has been the most able of the official spokesmen. He earned the trust and respect of the press and his political masters - a difficult balancing act.

 

Paul Waugh, Chairman, Parliamentary Lobby

I would expect his replacement to be drawn from the ranks of the Treasury, like Field was. Given the economic times, it would be difficult to see the Prime Minister entrust such a key role to anyone who didn't know their Laffer curve from their Keynes.

Key stats

2

Number of years spent by Steve Field in Downing Street

4

Number of years spent by Jenny Grey in the Cabinet Office

£285m

The Government's total planned comms spend in 2012-13

£168m

Total spend through the COI in 2012-13

Source: Cabinet Office

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