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The other race for Downing Street

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LONDON — It’s not just Boris Johnson who will vacate Downing Street on September 6.

Departing with Johnson and his family will be scores of aides and special advisers who have been running his political operation inside No. 10 — opening up vacancies in some of the very biggest jobs in British politics.

A mass scramble is therefore already underway in Westminster as ambitious Tory strategists past and present race to hitch their wagons to the leadership candidates they think most likely to be the next prime minister, dreaming of landing a key role in Downing Street if they win.

It can be an effective strategy — but only if you back the right horse. Politicians frequently turn to key campaign lieutenants to fill big roles in their new administrations after winning power.

Lee Cain, Johnson’s original Downing Street director of communications, was a former Foreign Office aide who played a central role in his successful 2019 leadership campaign.

Nick Timothy, another former big figure in Downing Street, was appointed Theresa May’s joint chief of staff when she became prime minister in 2016. A former adviser with May in the Home Office, he joined her leadership campaign after taking an unpaid sabbatical from his position as director at the New Schools Network.

The wide-open 2022 leadership contest, triggered by the defenestration of Johnson, has already seen the Tory Party’s multiple factions circling around different potential leaders. Intriguing plotlines include accusations (firmly denied) that former Vote Leave activists such as Dominic Cummings are manoeuvring behind the scenes on behalf of Risui Sunak; a return to prominence of certain once-powerful Cameroons (advisers who served under the former Prime Minister David Cameron); and the emergence of a whole new generation of aspiring No. 10 big-hitters.

What matters right now is precisely who is working for who.

“Everyone’s desperate to have a No. 10 pass so they can go to the next Spectator party,” one seasoned campaigner joked, rolling their eyes. The Tory-leaning Spectator magazine, of which Johnson is a former editor, is renowned in Westminster for throwing champagne-fueled parties with A-list political guests.

“Just think about it,” another former adviser said incredulously. “Liam Booth-Smith [Rishi Sunak’s young Treasury aide] could be the next No. 10 chief of staff.”

Here’s what POLITICO knows so far about who is working for who, behind the scenes.

Rishi Sunak

The campaign team behind front-runner Rishi Sunak has been one of the most hotly-discussed topics in Westminster this past week.

Former Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak | Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP via Getty Images

Among Sunak’s loyal advisers on the front line are his chief of staff in the Treasury Liam Booth-Smith, comms chief Nerissa Chesterfield and Cass Horrowitz, billed as the man behind “brand Rishi”.

But with the deeply divisive Dominic Cummings having in the past made no secret of his admiration for Sunak, the former chancellor was forced to insist at his launch event Tuesday that Cummings has “absolutely nothing to do with this campaign” and “will have absolutely nothing to do with any government that I’m privileged to lead.”

Skeptics will note, however, that Sunak has enlisted the help of Charlie Souster, a consultant at the lobbying outfit Charlesbye. The firm was set up by key Vote Leave lieutenant and former Downing Street comms chief Lee Cain, one of Cummings’ closest political allies. Souster has taken unpaid leave to volunteer on the campaign. Cain insists he personally is staying out of the race.

Liz Truss

Truss has turned to her karaoke partner-in-crime and fellow East Anglian MP Thérèse Coffey, the work and pensions secretary, to chair her campaign — but it’s one of her former top advisers Ruth Porter, now a big hitter at advisory firm FGS Global, who is managing the day to day. 

Adam Jones, Truss’ Foreign Office media adviser, is heading up comms, with help from another former Truss SpAd-turned-FGS Global employee Jason Stein

Sophie Jarvis, another key Foreign Office adviser and a former lobbyist with the Adam Smith Institute, is coordinating the support of MPs.

Hugh Bennett, who was an adviser to Johnson’s chief Brexit negotiator David Frost before he quit the government, is involved on the policy side of the campaign. Allies will be hoping Bennett can bring the all-important support of the still-influential Frost on board.

Lucy Harris, a former Brexit Party MEP who quit to endorse the Conservatives during the 2019 general election, is also in the camp providing advice.

The Institute for Economic Affairs’ Mark Littlewood and the Adam Smith Institute’s Matthew Lesh are not formally part of the team, although insiders say the pair of libertarian think-tankers are both close allies and are speaking to Truss on a regular basis.

The Adam Smith Institute’s Michael Turner is also not formally involved, but is said to be the campaign’s pollster of choice. 

Tom Tugendhat

Backbencher Tugendhat has enlisted the help of key Cameroon Daniel Korski to run his campaign. Since leaving government, the former David Cameron adviser has been running PUBLIC, a body which helps connect tech startups with government.

Tom Tugendhat in London on July 11, 2022 | Carlos Jasso/AFP via Getty Images

Nick Faith, founder and director at WPI Strategy and former director of comms at the influential think tank Policy Exchange is heading up comms with Liam Deacon, a former GB News producer.

Guy Miscampbell, director at polling company Stack Data Strategy, which was set up by James Kanagasooriam, who coined the phrase “Red Wall” to describe Labour Party heartlands, is working on policy.

Nimco Ali, campaigner and close personal friend of the prime minister’s wife Carrie Johnson, is not directly involved in the campaign — but has intriguingly retweeted one of Tugendhat’s campaign messages, and appears to be supportive of a candidate who has for years been one of Boris Johnson’s fiercest critics. 

Nadhim Zahawi

Newly-appointed Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi has been working with two close allies of Boris Johnson’s election strategist Lynton Crosby on his campaign.

The Times reported earlier this month that Mark Fullbrook, a founding partner in Crosby’s Crosby Textor Group has been running Zahawi’s strategy for some time.

Matt Jackson, also formally of Crosby Textor Group, is working on comms with Isabel Bruce, who was a media adviser to the former Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis. Lewis is chairing Zahawi’s campaign. Both Jackson and Fullbrook are working for Zahawi in a personal capacity.

Hanbury Strategy’s Grace Hanson-Eden, a former Conservative Campaign Headquarters staffer, is also involved.

Penny Mordaunt

Laura Round, director at the global strategic communications company Freuds, who was an adviser to Mordaunt at the Ministry of Defence, is back and running comms for the trade minister’s campaign. 

Simon Finkelstein, a former adviser both in the Foreign Office and the Ministry for Justice for Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab, is also on the team.

Kemi Badenoch

The political director of the low-tax pressure group the TaxPayers’ Alliance, James Roberts, is helping MPs Julia Lopez and Alex Burghart in drumming up support among lawmakers for Badenoch. Roberts is also an alumni of the Crosby Textor Group — run by legendary strategist Lynton Crosby — where he was head of outreach. 

Alex Morton, head of policy at the Centre for Policy Studies, is overseeing the campaign’s policy work. He was responsible for housing and planning in the No. 10 Policy Unit under David Cameron, and worked on the Conservatives’ 2015  election manifesto.

Hudson Roe, former SpAd in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, who is an old friend of Badenoch, has been helping the campaign out too.

Suella Braverman

David Scullion, the attorney general’s special adviser, who was online editor of The Critic magazine and formerly deputy editor of BrexitCentral, announced himself as the comms man for the Braverman camp at the weekend. 

Jeremy Hunt

Christina Robinson, who joined Hunt as a special adviser in 2013 and has worked for him since he left government, is heading up comms for the former health secretary.

Another former adviser from Hunt’s culture secretary days, Adam Smith, is advising on policy. Smith is well remembered for quitting his SpAd job in spectacular fashion back in 2012, saying he acted without the authority of his boss by exchanging close messages with News Corporation’s public affairs director, Frédéric Michel, over the company’s controversial bid for BSkyB.

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