Tories’ hire of Coulson provokes mixed response from lobbyists

Leading lobbyists have revealed alternative takes on the Conservative Party’s appointment of Andy Coulson as its director of communications.

Michael Prescott, MD at Weber Shandwick Public Affairs, suggested that Tory leader David Cameron had pulled off a masterstroke by appointing the former News of the World editor.

Prescott, former political editor of The Sunday Times, said: ‘There are only about 20 national newspaper editors in this country and they form an elite club. It’s undoubtedly an advantage to have appointed a member of that club – not just because of the access, but because of the understanding he will have. David Cameron can get access at any time, but this goes beyond that.’

But Charles Lewington, MD of Hanover Communications and former press ­secretary to John Major, was less optimistic.

He said: ‘The challenge for Cameron will be to ensure that his director of communications and his press secretary work well together. Without a political background, Andy might find himself behind the curve on those communications issues where a grasp of political strategy is paramount.’

And Nick Williams, head of public affairs at Fleishman-Hillard, suggested Coulson could face problems from the ‘vested interests’ within Conservative Central Office. He said: ‘His straight-talking tabloid approach will be in stark contrast to Cameron’s establishment image.

Last week’s appointment of Coulson coincided with the news that Treasury civil servant Michael Ellam will be head of communications at Downing Street when Gordon Brown takes over as prime minister on 27 June. Ellam will handle daily briefings for lobby journalists, but Damien McBride is expected to continue to play an active role as Brown’s press secretary.

Lewington said: ‘The appointment of a Treasury civil servant who has served both administrations suggests Gordon Brown wants to play it straighter. But, in reality, Michael may not control communications strategy – it may remain in the hands of one of Brown’s more political communicators.’

Meanwhile, the political blogger Iain Dale claimed: ‘More than a few journalists have been on the end of a threatening email from Ellam.’

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