Miliband eyes up comms chief for leadership drive

David Miliband has lined up a communications director and chief of staff to move in to Downing Street should he take over from Gordon Brown.

Miliband: thought to have leadership plans
Miliband: thought to have leadership plans

The Foreign Secretary is keen to have D-J Collins, European communications director at Google, as his director of communications should be become PM. It is not known whether Collins has agreed to the plan.

Miliband would also find a place in the team for Jonathan Kestenbaum, the well-connected chief executive of Nesta (National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts). Kestenbaum is said to have told friends he would take chief of staff.

Miliband is also believed to have a campaign manager in place. Alan Donnelly, chairman of the lobbying firm Sovereign Strategy, has been asked to perform the role.

The three men are part of a six-strong inner circle already providing discreet help to Miliband in a personal capacity. Other members of the inner circle are former Downing Street head of policy Matthew Taylor and Miliband's current top special advisers Sarah Schaefer and Madlin Sadler.

A source close to Miliband told PRWeek: 'He has been in regular contact with a number of people throughout the summer. It's not a formal thing – they are not meeting every Tuesday to plot. But you could certainly say there are some important relationships already in place.'

Collins was head of news at the Department for Educations and Skills when Miliband was schools secretary and the two have remained close since then. As a former press secretary at the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union (AEEU), Collins also provides Miliband with a crucial and much-needed link to the trade unions.

A government insider said: ‘David has Sarah Schaefer to handle the press, but the truth is that DJ is his first port of call for strategic media advice. They’ve been talking regularly about the leadership issue... There's no question that D-J would get a top media role if he wanted it.'

Another well-placed source said: 'I know David speaks to D-J a lot... He obviously has the new media experience but he also has a lot of friendships across the media, people outside of the traditional media clique, which might make his perspective and advice more tuned in than someone coming at it purely from a Labour Party or press background.'

When approached by PRWeek, Collins refused to be drawn on how often he talked to Miliband, saying only: 'I speak to a lot of people.' Collins also declined to say whether he would accept a job as Miliband's communications advisor.

Kestenbaum is a former chief of staff to private equity pioneer and Labour donor Ronald Cohen, and is also close to former Labour Party chief fundraiser Lord Levy.

Miliband is said to have approached Kestenbaum this summer, asking him to forge links with business in return for a key role in his entourage. A source close to Kestenbaum said: ‘He sees himself as Miliband’s chief of staff – a Jonathan Powell-type figure.’

Kestenbaum was on holiday and unavailable for comment as PRWeek went to press.

Donnelly is an MEP-turned-lobbyist who is well connected in Labour’s ‘North East mafia’. Labour sources said Donnelly had spoken to Milband about helping to run his leadership campaign in a private capacity. One said: ‘Alan Donnelly is the campaign manager.’

Donnelly was unavailable for comment but issued a statement saying: ‘I am the chair of the South Shields Labour party - nothing more and I don't believe there is a leadership campaign. The speculation is nothing more than summer mischief.'

Meanwhile, ex Blair-aide Taylor acts as a sounding board for Miliband's political thinking and as a link to 'ultra-Blairites' such as former health secretary Alan Milburn. According to one senior figure in Westminster, ‘restless’ Blairites such Taylor and Milburn are playing a key role behind the scenes in the Miliband campaign.

Miliband is also in regular conversation with a number of younger Blairite MPs such as work and pensions secretary James Purnell and skills minister David Lammy, who is advising the Foreign Secretary on how to use the internet to connect with voters.

 

Click here for full Insider's Guide to Team Miliband

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