A day of explosive disclosures from No. 10 has ended in the resignation of Lee Cain as Boris Johnson’s communications chief. Only 24 hours ago, it was reported he’d be promoted to Chief of Staff, after having threatened to quit last week. Now, he's gone.
Depending on which rumours you believe, Cain had fallen out with Carrie Symonds, the Prime Minister’s fiancee and a former Tory party spin chief with her own views on how the job should be done. Cain, it's said, felt undermined to the extent of being unable to fulfil his role - all the more so when Allegra Stratton was appointed the PM's on-screen spokesman. So he offered to quit on Friday, but the PM instead offered to promote him to Chief of Staff. News of this job offer, in turn, caused uproar with all kinds of remarks briefed to the press. 'Ms Symonds led a revolt of Number 10 women,' says the Daily Telegraph, which may explain some of the anonymous quotes. This one, in the FT, is my favourite:-
“Does the PM think that it is appropriate?” said one Conservative official “All the people with access to him would be men. That's hardly governing in the spirit of Biden-Harris.”
Perhaps the Chief of Staff offer was then withdrawn, leading to Cain's resignation. Perhaps not, and he quit anyway. But either way, he has gone. Here's his statement.
Lee Cain's statement:
'After careful consideration I have this evening resigned as No. 10 director of Communications and will leave the post at the end of the year.
It has been a privilege to work as an adviser for Mr Johnson for the last three years – being part of a team that helped him win the Tory leadership contest, secure the largest Conservative majority for three decades – and it was an honour to be asked to serve as the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff.
‘I would like to thank all the team at No. 10 – including the many unsung and incredibly talented civil servants – for their hard work and support during the last 18 months.
‘And most of all I would like to thank the Prime Minister for his loyalty and leadership. I have no doubt that under his Premiership the country will deliver on the promises made in the 2019 election campaign and build back better from the coronavirus pandemic.'
‘I want to thank Lee for his extraordinary service to the government over the last four years.
‘He has been a true ally and friend and I am very glad that he will remain director of communications until the new year and to help restructure the operation. He will be much missed.'
The Vote Leave team in No. 10 are a band of brothers, and I understand that there is dismay amongst them that the Prime Minister did not do more to prevent Cain's departure – with more resignations now being discussed. Eddie Lister, on of the PM's senior advisers and a veteran of his City Hall days, has already decided to quit. But he was expected to go anyway: there's even talk of Dominic Cummings walking out – and taking others with him. Perhaps Oliver Lewis, who has been working in Brexit. There's even talk that David Frost, the chief Brexit negotiator (and not a Vote Leave alumnus) is considering his position. This seems a bit much, if we're just talking about the departure of a spin doctor. But perhaps we're talking about a lot more: a wider power struggle and a war for Boris Johnson's ear.
Meanwhile James Slack, a civil servant who served as the PM's spokesman, has taken Cain's job, but there's no word about a Chief of Staff. That appointment will tell us quite a lot about the future of Boris Johnson’s operation.