The PM has put the final touches to Team Cameron

Written by George Pascoe Watson on 25 June 2015 in Opinion
David Cameron appears calm and graceful only because he has a team of smart, highly motivated professionals behind the scenes at Number 10

The Prime Minister has hand-picked a home team of ego-free professionals happier to stay out of the limelight than shine on the Number 10 stage. 

David Cameron is determined to avoid the pitfalls of the Blair Brown years where competing personalities tore the project to pieces. His new team of advisers reflect his thinking. His inner trio – Ed Llewellyn, Kate Fall and Craig Oliver – are a mark of constancy. They know the project. They know what’s in the Boss’s head. They have notched up years in his company.

Others are not new. But they’ve been promoted into new roles, bigger jobs and the picture is now emerging of a team which has been through the fire in number 10.

All are focused on delivery. For the Premier and the government. Underpinning all this thinking is the relationship between Mr Cameron and George Osborne, the favourite to succeed the PM as Tory leader.

Lessons have been learned about the importance of the PM and Chancellor – and their teams – working hand-in-glove. The Teebee Geebees were fought because people around the two men were focused more on the battle for the top job than governing. So Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne’s relationship matters.

A new team around the Chancellor has arrived. Formidably bright and likeable Daily Mail political editor James Chapman and hugely capable and tough ex-Jeremy Hunt adviser Sue Beeby have their work cut out filling the shoes of Rupert Harrison.

To that end, a new economic big brain will soon be joining “Chappers” and Ms Beeby, a driven mum of-two.

But they know only too well that both Mr Osborne and Mr Cameron rise together or hang apart. Only this week the Chancellor’s team have been in the closest possible meetings with number 10 aides plotting the Budget on July 8.
This can only happen with supreme trust.

Mr Cameron learned from Coalition government that quiet professionalism amongst advisers is the only solution to delivering a programme. He doesn’t want the world to see the internal wiring. On the surface the Premier appears calm and graceful only because there’s a team of smart, highly motivated professionals doing their job.

Around the PM is his inner circle. Mr Llewellyn was much fancied to hang up his boots as chief of staff and take his pick of a plum diplomatic job. But the lure of the EU referendum, coupled with the “drug” of being at the heart of Number 10 means he’s staying on. He loves it.

Ms Fall has been by Mr Cameron’s side for many, many years. She makes sure number 10 works, and works well. Meetings happen on time, traps are spotted, the machine whirrs thanks to the deputy chief of staff.

And then there’s Mr Oliver, a former senior editor at the BBC and ITV News and now Director of Politics and Communications.

He’s had a rough ride from Lobby correspondents because of his relentless focus on TV. But Mr Cameron has put him right into the heart of his operation – in charge of the political big ticket items and also the communication challenges.

He’s been rewarded for the quiet steel he’s shown over recent years – especially for rightly keeping the PM out of televised debates. Mr Oliver is now definitely in charge of “difficult stuff”.

Next up is another trio – Ameet Gill, Liz Sugg and Camilla Cavendish.

Mr Gill is director of strategy. He’s described by the Premier as the “air traffic controller”. Others know him for running the government’s all-important “grid”.

Ms Sugg is the indispensable director of special advisers and events. She and she alone is capable of running Mr Cameron’s life on a minute-by-minute basis. If the Premier has to leave a reception at 4.17pm, 4.18pm is too late for her.

And Ms Cavendish is now head of the all important number 10 policy unit. She is a former Times columnist with a razor sharp intellect, but also a very close personal friend to the Premier and Mr Osborne.

It takes time for outsiders to bed into the most powerful address in Britain. So Ms Cavendish is focussing on the party’s annual conference in Manchester to make her mark. This year we should expect a raft of new policy announcements from her team – but she’s been given the summer to find her feet and show her capacity.

My former deputy Graeme Wilson continues as the PM’s press secretary, handling the Lobby. Few are as comfortable under fire as this utterly reliable and charming Ulsterman.

Newcomers who make up the core team are Giles Kenningham, Wilson’s deputy, Adam Atashzai who is Mr Oliver’s deputy political secretary. He’s the keeper of the all important “lines to take” – making sure everyone in government is saying the same.

Super smart and well-connected Gabby Bertin has returned from maternity leave to pick up as the PM’s link with the world’s business leaders. Few know the PM and his wife better than Ms Bertin, his former press secretary.

And lastly Jess Cunniffe has stepped up as the PM’s principal speechwriter. Ms Cunniffe is a former local newspaper reporter who worked with the remarkable Clare Foges writing for Mr Cameron for the past two years.

Of course, Mr Cameron is also supported by the civil service machine. It is led by principle private secretary Chris Martin, without whom the PM could not operate. Mr Martin, known as ‘Coldplay’, is in line for the very top of the civil service. He is seen as a formidable judge of events and character by the Premier.

And there is an ever present mainframe computer on hand. It is Oliver Letwin, the man to whom the PM and his inner circle turn whenever there’s a knotty problem to solve.


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