Downing Street appoints comms chief amid friction over televised briefings

Jack Doyle has been promoted to be the new No. 10 director of comms, Downing Street has confirmed, leaving the future of the Government’s strategy on daily televised press briefings in doubt.

Boris Johnson is thought to have opted for Jack Doyle as the 'continuity candidate', PRWeek understands (Pic credit: Getty)
Boris Johnson is thought to have opted for Jack Doyle as the 'continuity candidate', PRWeek understands (Pic credit: Getty)

Jack Doyle was previously No. 10’s deputy director of comms under James Slack, who is leaving to become deputy editor-in-chief at The Sun newspaper.

Doyle left his job as a Lobby journalist and associate editor of The Mail’s politics team last year to join Downing Street as press secretary.

Unlike Slack, he will hold the job as a special adviser, with a political element to the role, rather than as a civil servant. 

Downing Street insiders told PRWeek that Doyle has built up the necessary experience for handling the media because of his previous experience at No. 10, but there would now be fresh challenges.

A senior Downing Street comms source said: “He’s spent a year in Downing Street, building that relationship with the Prime Minister. Now it’s different. He will be the PM’s ‘go-to’ comms person, where previously it had been James or Lee [Cain].”

And Doyle must rise above his previous remit, handling the media and the trajectory of news stories.

The source said: “The bigger challenge for him now is the strategic negotiation of Whitehall. It’s very easy to just be firefighting in that job. Will he able to lift his head up and do horizon-scanning and then start to plan six to 12 months ahead, in terms of comms, and with an eye to the next election? That detailed strategic work is not something he’s had to do before.”

Tension over televised briefings

One of Doyle’s first strategic decisions will be whether to go ahead with daily televised White House-style press briefings.

The briefings, to be led by Downing Street political press secretary Allegra Stratton (pictured), were meant to begin last year, but have been delayed for practical and political reasons – specifically that Slack was not thought to favour them.

Allegra Stratton
Allegra Stratton

A Downing Street source said: “James didn’t want to go forward with [the briefings] and there was tension with Allegra, because she does. I know Jack’s not keen on them, so he will have that battle to try to sideline them.”

Unverified rumours suggest that Downing Street encouraged an approach by Prince Charles’ team to Stratton when it was seeking a new comms secretary, in the hope that this would resolve the issue of the televised No. 10 briefings, but that she turned the opportunity down.

The position was taken by Simon Enright, NHS England’s director of comms, who will take up the job next month.

The source said: “There’s a fascinating internal battle going on because the PM has gone off the idea of televised briefings, but he doesn’t want to lose another senior Downing Street comms person either.”

Why was Doyle chosen?

Doyle was always one of the main contenders for the top comms job in Downing Street, but he was not the first choice.

PRWeek understands that Sarah Sands – a former editor of The Sunday Telegraph and the Evening Standard – and Peter Dominiczak, former political editor of the Daily Telegraph and co-founder of Fleetwood Strategy, were also approached, but both turned the job down.

The Downing Street source said: “They approached quite a few people but were turned down. Why are people turning down the biggest comms job in the country? It does not reflect particularly favourably on this administration at the moment.”

Direction of comms

In the absence of recruiting a more high-profile journalist than Doyle, Boris Johnson is thought to have opted for continuity, following the departures of Slack, and Lee Cain last autumn.

The source said: “I think they looked at the options after a few high-profile people turned it down and thought that Jack has done a very good job. He lacks Whitehall experience but he speaks of continuity and has experience with the media.

“There’s been a lot of upheaval in the No. 10 comms team in the past few months and [Johnson] needs to try to bring some stability to it.”

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