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LONDON — It’s not just the Cabinet that’s had a clear-out now that Liz Truss is running Britain.
A phalanx of fresh faces have arrived in No. 10 Downing Street to strategize for and advise the new prime minister as she seeks to navigate her way through a turbulent winter and toward a difficult-looking 2024 general election. Only a small handful of Boris Johnson-era aides have survived the cull.
“She clearly prizes loyalty very highly,” one former adviser observes of the new Downing Street line-up, which includes numerous past aides to the new prime minister, as well as ideological bedfellows from a think tank world in which she’s closely entwined.
Former and current Tory officials, who spoke to POLITICO mainly on condition of anonymity, have plenty of good things to say about the talents within the PM’s new top team — but also caution there could be trouble ahead. Few of those in key roles have worked at the top of government before, and several in senior positions are still in their mid-to-late 20s.
“I think it’s a sign of weakness not to have built a broader team and pulled in some more experienced talent,” the former adviser quoted above said.
Here is POLITICO’s essential guide to some of the people you need to know in Truss’ Downing Street.
Mark Fullbrook, chief of staff
With a general election expected in the next two years, Truss does not have the luxury of a full term in office — and so perhaps it’s unsurprising to see a battle-hardened campaigner, Mark Fullbrook, installed at the top of her No. 10 operation.
Once a close colleague of legendary Tory election guru Lynton Crosby — Fullbrook was the ‘F’ in Crosby’s CTF firm — before he set up his own outfit, Fullbrook Strategies, earlier this year. He only belatedly joined the Truss campaign this summer, having first backed her defeated rivals Nadhim Zahawi and then Penny Mordaunt.
Those who have worked with Fullbrook rate him a “super-quick” operator. He won’t be a “baller-outer,” yelling at colleagues perceived to be failing, one former minister notes. He just works around those he doesn’t rate, rather than falling out with them, they observed.
Tory veterans think he will be an asset in charming MPs outside the Truss tent, and he’s run multiple campaigns on the ground stretching back years (although Zac Goldsmith’s mayoral bid was not chalked up as a success). His intimate knowledge of Conservative Campaign Headquarters could help calm the jitters of Tory MPs fearing for their seats in 2024.
His experience cannot be questioned. He was deputy head, and then head, of campaigns for the Conservative Party in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when first Margaret Thatcher and then John Major were leading the party. He is described as a “classic Conservative” without a clear ideology, having since worked for leaders of every stripe from David Cameron to Theresa May, to Boris Johnson and now Truss.
Some see the potential for friction between Fullbrook, as a very senior newcomer to Team Truss, and other longer-serving aides who have fought “in the trenches” for the new PM for years.
And questions remain over his lack of actual government experience, and his ability to pull the Whitehall levers required to make things happen.
“It’s a strange choice, because ultimately the role of chief of staff is a role that interfaces with government, not campaigning,” one former Whitehall adviser said. “It’s a little bit odd.”
Ruth Porter, deputy chief of staff
That is where Ruth Porter should come in, according to those who know Team Truss well.
Porter was among the first in the Truss campaign trenches when Boris Johnson quit; an old ally who first worked with her as a special adviser (SpAd) during her meme-friendly stint at the Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs in the mid-2010s.
Porter later left government for a succession of well-paid public affairs roles — including at the London Stock Exchange, and most recently in a senior post at mega-consultancy FGS Global.
“She is one of the most talented, not just SpAds, but just all-round public affairs, policy-type people that I’ve come across,” one gushing former adviser said. “She can do the wonkish policy side of things, she’s great at comms, and then she’s just a great strategist as well.”
Where Fullbrook is “policy-light,” Porter compensates, another strategist who knows them both well said. Like a number of key players within Team Truss she cut her teeth in the right-wing think tank world, first at the free market Institute for Economic Affairs, and then at Policy Exchange.
Nick Catsaras, principal private secretary
After 18 months as Truss’ principal private secretary in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), Catsaras is being shunted across to No. 10 to take on the same role.
As things stand Catsaras is likely to be more influential in Downing Street than his immediate predecessor, Peter Wilson, given the departure of Samantha Jones as all-powerful No. 10 permanent secretary.
One veteran former Whitehall aide says it was reasonable for Truss to bring in her own civil servant as one of her closest aides, and that Catsaras is seen as a “solid and sensible” choice for PPS.
Sophie Jarvis, political secretary
Jarvis is described by one close observer as Truss’ “bodyman” — the U.S. jargon for the adviser acting as a president’s day-to-day fixer.
The young but long-serving Truss SpAd will take on a role overseeing parliamentary relations with the top of government — something one strategist who knows Jarvis says will suit her well.
She is a familiar face on the Westminster party circuit, having done a brief stint on the Evening Standard’s Londoner’s Diary when it was under the stewardship of former Chancellor George Osborne. “She is very fun and often seen on the dance floor (with Truss!) at Tory conference,” one Westminster comms expert says.
But behind the “charming, bubbly exterior,” Jarvis “knows her policy, has a sharp brain and is streetwise,” another SW1 strategist reckons.
She is “cut from the same cloth” as Truss, having worked for the free market Adam Smith Institute before becoming a political adviser, they say.
Jarvis is credited with winning support from numerous MPs throughout the summer, and even with persuading some supporters of main rival Rishi Sunak to come across to back Truss mid-campaign.
Iain Carter, director of strategy
By contrast, Carter is a “non-factional” addition to the team, those who know him well reckon.
A former CCHQ political director, he took unpaid leave from political consultancy Hanbury Strategy to join the Truss campaign.
Like Fullbrook, he is a party man seen as well-placed to help navigate the challenges of managing a difficult parliamentary group which didn’t initially back Truss, and containing many MPs unhappy to have been excluded from the senior ministerial ranks.
It was Porter who brought him into the leadership campaign — their paths having crossed long ago as SpAds — and he knows Fullbrook well from his CTF days,
He was seen as a crucial figure in organizing the grassroots leg of the leadership campaign, and as Truss’ director of strategy will now head up the No. 10 political unit.
Jason Stein, special adviser, political
Everyone in Westminster seems to know Jason Stein.
Once a non-partisan Whitehall press officer, he was tempted over to the politically-charged SpAd world by Truss when she was at the Treasury.
He later worked for Tory big hitter Amber Rudd at the Department for Work and Pensions, before she quit in 2019.
After leaving government he was briefly recruited by Prince Andrew, and soon found himself in the spotlight after it emerged he had counseled the Queen’s second son against agreeing to an interview with the BBC’s Emily Maitlis over his past association with paedophile Jeffrey Epstein.
Stein left two weeks before the infamous Newsnight interview took place, his own reputation intact.
Stein was among the first of Truss’ former colleagues to join the leadership campaign this summer, and even some on the rival Sunak team acknowledge he did a fine job, particularly in turning around Truss’ initially wooden presentational skills.
Another Sunak team member was less than complementary, however — describing him as “a Grade A bullshitter.” He is expected to be heavily involved in Truss’ PMQs prep.
Jamie Hope, director of policy
Hope is one of a faction of Truss SpAds from the Department for International Trade and the FCDO who will join Truss in key roles in No. 10. Still in his 20s, Hope cut his teeth in the Conservative Research Department, but as a relative newcomer is little-known in wider Westminster circles.
A loyalist from Truss’ trade days, he played a crucial role in working on policy in the Truss transition team with the new leveling-up secretary, Simon Clarke.
The highly-rated Hope’s appointment has somewhat divided opinion, with one seasoned strategist describing it as “insane” to appoint someone so young to such a senior role, “no matter how bright.”
Jamie Harries, deputy director of policy
Harries — also in his 20s — will lead on policy with Hope. Another product of the Conservative Research Department, he started as a researcher in the Scottish Conservative Party in 2017.
Like Hope, he is well thought-of, but his Westminster career has been relatively short. Expect plenty of chatter about ‘the two Jamies’ from those working closely with No. 10.
Matthew Sinclair, chief economic adviser, policy unit
Sinclair moves over from leading on the “digital economy” at consultancy Deloitte, to leading on the economy proper inside Downing Street.
More significantly, he used to run the Taxpayers’ Alliance, a controversial low-tax lobby group famed for its eye-catching press releases targeting the public sector. In that role he once wrote a punchy manifesto of sorts for the Tory website ConservativeHome, where among other things he said the government should abolish the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the new HS2 cross-country rail link, and the entire Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, as it was then called. He also edited a book focused entirely on how to shrink the state.
One comms strategist reckons he is “very smart and VERY libertarian,” describing him as a “small state, low tax, deregulatory Tory.”
Sinclair “believes, or certainly used to believe, that the state has little to no role in people’s lives,” the strategist added. Radical proposals seem certain to follow.
Shabbir Merali, economic adviser, policy unit
Joining Sinclair on the economy brief will be Merali, who has advised Truss on the economy since her days as chief secretary to the Treasury. He later joined her at the international trade department, and at the foreign office too. He is a Cambridge policy fellow and a qualified accountant.
One former Whitehall adviser says he is rated by Treasury folks, and is very interested in tech policy and how it can promote economic growth and productivity.
Alex Boyd, energy, policy unit
Boyd is an influential civil servant who entered Truss’ inner circle at the Department for International Trade. Boyd moved across to the FCDO when Truss did, and will now take on the critical role as the PM’s energy adviser. He has plenty of experience working in Brussels, where he started his career as a parliamentary assistant in the European Parliament.
Beyond the economy
John Bew, foreign affairs
One of the few survivors from the Boris Johnson administration. Bew was the central brain behind last year’s integrated review of Britain’s foreign and defense policies.
He has an unusual profile for a Tory adviser; an academic, a former writer with the left-leaning New Statesman, and a biographer of the former Labour PM Clement Attlee. Bew will have the tricky task of improving links between Truss’ Downing Street and the rest of the world, most importantly the White House.
Bew’s Northern Irish heritage is significant, those who know him say. He was particularly influential in the 2019 Brexit talks between Johnson and his Irish counterpart at the time, Leo Varadkar, which ultimately helped clear roadblocks to a deal. Bew’s father, a historian, sits in the House of Lords as a crossbench peer.
One comms strategist described him as a “super smart and lovely guy who is very Atlanticist.”
“He is really respected and liked in Whitehall, and that is pretty difficult as everyone is at each other’s throats,” a former adviser adds.
One Whitehall official gushes: “He’s a king. He’s great.”
Caroline Elsom, health adviser, policy unit
After two years working with the new health secretary and deputy prime minister, Thérèse Coffey, at the Department for Work and Pensions, Elsom moves on to take the health policy brief in No. 10, where she will continue to work closely with her old boss.
Elsom’s first big Westminster job was as a senior researcher at the Thatcherite Centre for Policy Studies think tank.
Christopher Jenkins, legal/constitutional affairs
Former David Frost adviser Christopher Jenkins is set for a broad legal and constitutional role in Downing Street.
Despite having worked for the hardline former Brexit negotiator, Jenkins is not seen as a diehard loyalist to his former boss. Jenkins worked with Truss on trying to sort out the Northern Ireland protocol issue long after Frost moved on.
“He is considered quite extreme on lots of issues, but intelligent and informed,” one former adviser who worked with him said.
Hugh Bennett, deregulation and opportunities
Bennett, a Vote Leave veteran and former news editor of the gossipy Guido Fawkes political news site and blog, is another former Frost adviser.
He has two Oxbridge degrees and is — reportedly — a talented harpsichordist.
Described as a “through-and-through Brexiteer” by those who have worked with him, he was deeply involved in tackling the complexity of the withdrawal agreement signed with Brussels. As well as looking at deregulation, he will be working on the Northern Ireland protocol and EU relations.
Selling the message
Adam Jones, political director of communications
The Team Truss veteran will take on the political half of a newly-divided director of communications role. He has been running public relations for the new PM since May 2020, back when Truss was still trade secretary. He previously wrote speeches for bank HSBC, and most recently penned her victory address on the steps of Downing Street.
He is well liked by colleagues, including by “notoriously cynical” civil servants who see him as a safe pair of hands.
Simon McGee, director of communications
Highly experienced Whitehall spinner McGee rejoins the civil service to take on the other, non-political half of the spin doctor’s role.
A former lobby journalist at titles including the Yorkshire Post, the Sunday Times and the Mail on Sunday, McGee eventually went native in Whitehall, cutting his political teeth as a civil service spinner for various Tory Cabinet ministers before winding up working for Boris Johnson at the Foreign Office.
He’s spent the past few years working in the private sector at public affairs firm APCO. Also seen as a safe pair of hands.
Alex Wild, interim press secretary
Another Taxpayer’s Alliance alumnus, Alex Wild is a well-known figure in Westminster.
A former Home Office and Ministry of Justice adviser, he has been the Conservative Party’s director of comms for almost a year.
Colleagues describe him as a “grown-up and professional,” and lament that he may not continue in the role beyond the first month of the new government.
Unconfirmed rumors suggest he may then be replaced by former Home Secretary Priti Patel’s ex-spinner, Harry Methley.
What’s certain is that his deputy press secretary will be Beatrice Timpson, a former aide to Brexiteers Dominic Raab, Jacob Rees-Mogg and Iain Duncan Smith.