Government spokesperson for televised briefings named

Current media spad to Rishi Sunak set to take on high-profile post
Allegra Stratton co-presented Peston on Sunday before leaving ITV News to work for Rishi Sunak Photo: ITV / YouTube

By Alain Tolhurst

09 Oct 2020

The former ITV journalist Allegra Stratton is set to be appointed Boris Johnson’s new press secretary and front the government's White House-style televised press briefings.

The 39-year-old left journalism earlier this year to become the chancellor Rishi Sunak’s director of strategic communications earlier this year, and was the hot favourite to take on the high-profile role. Like the role with Sunak, the post is a special adviser rather than civil service role.

A government source confirmed the move to broadcasters but Downing Street is yet to officially comment.

No.10 began a search for someone to answer daily questions on the Prime Minister’s behalf back in July.

It is believed they wanted to capitalise on the interest generated by the daily coronavirus briefings and speak directly to the public and bypass journalists, and the new role forms part of a wide-ranging reform drive that also includes changes to the civil service communication function within departments.

Currently the briefings for lobby reporters in Westminster with the prime minister’s official spokesman, who is a civil servant, take place behind closed doors.

This new role’s special adviser status will mean more latitude to criticise the opposition and give answers based on party lines.

The published job specification said whoever takes the position will “communicate with the nation on behalf of the prime minister”, become “a trusted political adviser” and “a member of the senior team at Downing Street”.

The salary on offer is believed to be around £100,000, but the official advert only says it is “to be determined based on experience”.

It was reported that an experienced broadcaster was wanted for the role, with Mr Johnson said to have suggested BBC London’s Riz Lateef, and Sky News’ Sophy Ridge was also linked with it.

But Stratton, who is married to the Spectator magazine’s political editor James Forsyth, was always seen as the most likely choice having already made the leap from journalism to government communications.

Starting her career at the BBC, she then worked for the Times, the Independent and the New Statesman before becoming a political correspondent at the Guardian.

She also wrote the book Muhajababes in 2006, about the next generation of young people in the Middle East, then moved back to the BBC in 2012 as Newsnight’s political editor, then on to ITV News as national editor in 2015, and was a co-presenter of Peston on Sunday.

In April she left to join the newly-appointed chancellor, and has been credited with helping craft Sunak’s image as he won plaudits for his response to the coronavirus crisis.

Alain Tolhurst is chief eeporter at CSW's sister title PoliticsHome, where a version of this story first appeared.

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