Within minutes PR professionals were giving their reaction. ‘I don’t know whether to laugh or cry,’ said one. ‘An astonishing appointment. A Tory victory is assured,’ said another.
When I first heard the rumour, at lunchtime on Monday, I was equally surprised. Many of us expected Gordon Brown’s next comms supremo to be either a staunch Labour loyalist, possibly an ex-tabloid hack, or an obscure individual with lemming-like attributes.
Lewis is none of these. On the contrary, he is arguably the most senior and respected corporate comms professional in the UK.
He has been an occasional contributor to these pages and has twice chaired the PRWeek Awards under my editorship. My experience of the man now at the heart of Government is of an astute, reliable and always courteous operator.
Lewis has garnered respect in his various roles, from the Queen to FTSE bosses, and, importantly, from the wider PR and media community.
No doubt he thought long and hard about this new role, which will throw him into highly troubled waters. The last thing Lewis needs is to be seen as the ‘next Alastair Campbell’ or even Damian McBride. If he becomes the story, his job will become twice as hard.
So what is his job? Well, he is not Brown’s ‘PR man’, as some have reported. He is a civil servant on a two-year contract and, as such, will not even attend the party political conferences.
Lewis sees his role as steering the administration through what is verging on a constitutional crisis and through difficult economic times.
That said, it will be a politically supercharged job.
He will work closely with Brown, Peter Mandelson and Shaun Woodward, shrewd political animals desperate to cling
on to power.
In some ways the ‘apolitical’ Lewis is the ideal man for the post-spin era. It remains to be seen whether he will have the time and space to make a difference.