PRWeek revealed last week that Treasury head of press Jean-Christophe Gray had been appointed as the Prime Minister’s official spokesman, replacing Steve Field in the civil service role.
Gray is the latest Prime Minister’s spokesman to walk the well-trodden route from George Osborne’s department to Number 10, following Field and Michael Ellam. Cabinet Secretary Jeremy Heywood was also an ex- Treasury man.
Damian McBride, formerly a special adviser to Gordon Brown when he was prime minister, pointed to the trend in a recent blog, arguing that the Treasury has a ‘remarkable recent hegemony’ over such moves. McBride wrote: ‘If, every time there’s a vacancy for the Prime Minister’s official spokesman or parliamentary private secretary roles, Number 10 continues drawing on the same narrow field of Treasury candidates, all themselves drawing on similar working experiences, you risk ending up with a certain homogeneity in the way that the jobs are approached.’
One frequently suggested reason is the idea that the ongoing financial crisis and trimming of Whitehall bud-gets means that economic issues are frequently at the forefront of wider policy debates handled by Downing Street. But Fleishman-Hillard associate director James Dowling, himself a former senior adviser at the Treasury, also suggested that Treasury employees ‘tended to take a more political approach to things’, alongside a willingness to ‘do their master’s bidding’ that was likely to make them desirable for Number 10.
Industry observers spoken to by PRWeek added that one reason for Cameron sticking to the formula was the fact that recent ‘outsiders’ app-ointed to the role have struggled with the demands of the post. Vodafone’s ex-director of comms Simon Lewis, who was official spokesman under Brown, endured a difficult relationship with the lobby.
Steve Morris, managing partner at Portland and former head of the strategic comms unit at Number 10, claimed the reason for the strong links between the units dates back to Brown’s tenure as PM.
Downing Street declined to comment.
HOW I SEE IT
Mike Granatt, Director, Luther Pendragon
There have always been problems in the sense that prime ministers have lurched from having controversial spokesmen to non-controversial spokesmen. However, when it comes to the best person for the job, all that matters is that person has the trust of the PM, and that they understand him and his policies.
Kirsty Walker, Associate director, InHouse Communications
Jean-Christophe Gray is a hugely respected figure in the Treasury and has always been seen as being on top of his brief. He has proved he can earn the respect of journalists and that is the key thing in the spokesman role. It’s a clever move to bring him in.
Squire to take Bertin’s role as PM’s press secretary
The appointment of Jean-Christophe Gray as David Cameron’s official spokesman comes as Conservative HQ high-flyer Susie Squire replaces Gabby Bertin as the PM’s press secretary.
Squire will take the role being vacated by the widely respected Bertin, who is leaving later this month to have a baby. The move follows a rapid rise for Squire, who takes on the job after just four months as the Tories’ head of press.
Kirsty Walker, associate director at InHouse Communications and former Daily Mail political correspondent, praised Squire but also gave a warning to the PM. Walker said: ‘I believe the PM will miss Bertin, who was widely respected, but Squire is very good and should prove a worthy replacement.
‘However, Bertin’s effectiveness was aided by the fact she was part of the inner circle at Number 10, and you are only as good as the access you are given. Cameron needs to be wary that he does not exclude Squire from the decision-making process.’
Squire cut her teeth as political director for the TaxPayers’ Alliance, before moving to become a special adviser for Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, where she remained for two years before the move to the Tories’ head of press role.
Number of months Steve Field was the PM’s spokesman
The Government’s planned comms spending for 2012-13
Number of lobby briefings the PM’s spokesman has to perform each day
Number of governmental departments
Source: 10 Downing Street