Boris Johnson faces recruitment dilemma amid Downing Street chaos

After a slew of close loyalists followed Dominic Cummings out the door in November 2020, Boris Johnson had a tough task appointing a new chief of staff and director of communications.

He opted to promote his well-connected press secretary, Jack Doyle, and hire an outsider, Dan Rosenfield. Sarah Sands, a former editor of the Evening Standard and Radio 4’s Today programme and Peter Dominiczak, a former political editor of the Daily Telegraph, were said to have turned the jobs down.

Now, with both Rosenfield and Doyle rumoured to be on their way out, Johnson is facing a dilemma of persuading former loyalists to return or an experienced professional to take a risk on his – currently chaotic – reign in Downing Street.

Both jobs would ordinarily be coveted by ambitious professionals, but Whitehall sources say there is significant reluctance to take on the roles – not least because any new office holders would be likely to have their own lockdown activities under immediate scrutiny.

Conservative MPs have been clamouring for Johnson to appoint a party man or woman, with a deep understanding of the Tories and campaigning experience. In other words they are expecting someone with a deep understanding of rightwing politics who can push the party in that direction.

The other delicate matter is the prime minister’s wife, Carrie Johnson. An experienced PR professional herself who ran communications for Conservative campaign headquarters, she has very specific ideas about how the operation should be run, and clashed with the former director of communications Lee Cain, who rejected the chief of staff role and resigned.

There are also other options for ambitious Conservative campaigners and communicators. “Boris will be gone soon,” one senior Tory official observed. “Any big guns who want to work in No 10 will be hitching their horse to Rishi’s team.”

Sir Edward Lister

A former chief of staff and one of Johnson’s veteran loyalists. Johnson is reported to have asked Lister to return to No 10 several times since his departure in January last year. Lister himself has been caught in multiple conflict-of-interest stories and would most likely take some significant convincing to return.

David Canzini

A former head of campaigns for the Conservatives who now works alongside the elections guru Sir Lynton Crosby, Canzini is the name on many Tory MPs’ lips – though he is believed to think of it as a poisoned chalice. “Canzini’s not Einstein but he’s practical; he works hard; he understands the Tory party,” one former cabinet minister said. “He was on Boris’s campaign, so he’s trusted.”

Meg Powell-Chandler

A senior No 10 staffer with comms experiences whose stock is high in Downing Street, Powell-Chandler is one of the “musketeers” of Michael Gove loyalists inside No 10 in senior roles, the others being Henry Cook and Henry Newman, under the deputy chief of staff, Simone Finn. All four are also close to Carrie Johnson. Any could be bumped up to one of the top jobs.

Paul Stephenson

Stephenson was one of the key figures in Vote Leave, and securing him for No 10 would be a coup for Johnson. A former political adviser, Stephenson co-founded the advisory firm Hanbury Strategy and would take some tempting to leave for a volatile Downing Street.

Lynn Davidson

The Sun’s former Whitehall editor was special adviser to Penny Mordaunt at the Ministry of Defence and then moved to the private sector, returning to lead Alok Sharma’s communications for Cop26. Whitehall sources say she impressed in the role.

Jess Glover

A director general of the Cabinet Office, Glover is being tipped by the Sunday Times as Reynolds’ replacement.

Others tipped for promotion: Oliver Dowden’s spad, Lucy Noakes, the No 10 press officer Sophie True.

Comments are closed.