Number 10 in talks with Mark Penn

The Downing Street media team is pressing ahead with a plan to hire Burson-Marsteller's global CEO Mark Penn as its chief pollster.

Penn: free to join PM's team
Penn: free to join PM's team

With Gordon Brown's leadership rating falling to its lowest level yet this week, senior figures in Number 10 believe that Penn could be Brown's answer to Philip Gould - the polling guru credited with reversing Lab­our's declining fortunes in the 1990s.

Number 10 comms chief Stephen Carter and recen­t­ly recruited director of pol­itical strategy David Muir are und­erstood to have held talks with Penn last week - when Penn was still working as chief strategist for US pre-s­idential candidate Hillary Clinton.

Carter has put Muir in charge of the important areas of polling and research, and has told the former WPP ad man to pinpoint a handful of policy areas on which the Government needs to focus in order to win votes. Muir is a strong admirer of Penn and became acquainted with him while working at WPP, which owns Burson-Marsteller.

The plan to recruit Penn gathered more momentum on Monday this week when Penn was forced to resign from the Clinton campaign after details of con­troversial Burson-Marsteller dealings were made public.

Penn came under attack for meeting representatives of the Colombian government to help promote a free trade agreement that Clinton opposes because it could cost Americans jobs.

The resignation frees him up to work for the Prime Minister. A senior Burson-Marsteller source in regular contact with Penn said there was a high chance that Penn would now work for Brown. ‘It would not surprise me at all,' said the source. ‘He has a tremendous ability to spot trends in public opinion.'

But some in the party have questioned Penn's recent track record as Clinton's strategist and asked whether Labour can afford him.

Meanwhile, it emerged this week that Brown has a new adviser, former BBC producer Nicola Burdett, whose job is to concentrate on broadcast media.

Brown's top media hand­ler Damian McBride called for the extra help amid concern that Brown's presentational gaffes were making his job harder.

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