Katy Balls

Inside the Downing Street power struggle

Inside the Downing Street power struggle
Lee Cain (Getty images)
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Downing Street is a divided place this morning after the resignation of Lee Cain. No. 10's Director of Communications handed in his resignation last night after a day of briefings and counter briefings between the various factions in Downing Street. The drama began after the Times ran a story on Tuesday evening suggesting the Vote Leave alumnus was in line for a promotion to Chief of Staff. That kicked off a furious briefing war with the Prime Minister's fiancee Carrie Symonds among those to voice concerns over the move. 'It's like a Mexican firing squad in there,' says a government aide. 

After a day of internal feuds spilling out into the media, Cain held a meeting with the Prime Minister on Wednesday evening where he offered his resignation and Boris Johnson accepted. Resignation statements were quickly put out – though it's worth noting he will not actually leave the post until the end of the year. Former Daily Mail hack and civil servant James Slack has been appointed as his successor – while the recently appointed Allegra Stratton will – as previously planned – lead the briefings in the new year. Her appointment was a point of contention for Cain.

Last night, there was an expectation that Cain's allies could follow – and in the medium term this still cannot be ruled out. Coffee House understands that the Prime Minister held talks with David Frost to make sure he stayed. Meanwhile, there was resignation watch for Dominic Cummings and Oliver Lewis – with Lewis said to be particularly aggrieved by how his friend has been treated.

Why does this all matter? There's plenty of briefings going around about how Cain was too abrasive and has few friends in the Tory party. A bulk of Tory MPs see this as a victory as they have long held the view Downing Street does not treat them with due respect. But there are other briefings about how Cain has a lot of support in Downing Street and keeps the operation moving. 'They might not realise it yet, but people are going to miss him when he is gone,' says one supporter. 'He has kept the show on the road'. 

Who says what reveals a lot about what they believe the future direction of this government ought to be: a Vote Leave government or a new look government pushing more to One Nation Conservatism. There is a view on the Vote Leave side that Symonds is among those who wield a lot of the power these days. Meanwhile, critics of the Vote Leave contingent believe they have been too abrasive and it is not a sustainable way to govern. 

Which ever side you take, what is true is that this morning 10 Downing Street is a very fractious place. Tensions that have been building for some time have become public and there is no easy way to put a lid back on. The departure of Cain will not be the end of this – the No. 10 power struggle will rumble on.

Written byKaty Balls

Katy Balls is The Spectator's deputy political editor.

Topics in this articlePolitics