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Runners and riders: 10 Downing Street’s new press conference host

Runners and riders: 10 Downing Street's new press conference host
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This morning, Boris Johnson confirmed on LBC that the government is planning to introduce daily televised press briefings not too dissimilar to White House press conferences. Replacing the off-camera afternoon lobby briefing, the conferences aim to build on the success of the daily coronavirus briefings, which Johnson said showed that ‘people want direct engagement and want stuff from us’. 

With an area in No. 9 Downing Street to be converted for the new set-up, No. 10 is now on the hunt for an experienced broadcaster to host the daily press conference and be the government's voice on a daily basis. This individual will quickly become a household name – if not already. While some in No. 10 are keen for a woman to take on the role, there will be an application process open to all.

So, which candidates have what it takes to be the British version of the West Wing’s C. J. Cregg? And who would appeal to No. 10? 

Mr S presents the runners and riders:

Amber De Botton, 10/1

Head of Politics at ITV, De Botton is a seasoned pro with a wealth of experience covering the daily news in Westminster and beyond. A reporter initially, De Botton has also enjoyed stints at Total Politics and Sky News. She also has a good working relationship with the current No. 10 operation – which, let's face it, is a rare commodity these days. However, her current role is off camera, so could ADB be tempted centre stage? 

Allegra Stratton, 10/1 

A recent government hire, Stratton appears to tick all the boxes. She has had a high profile broadcast career – working for both the BBC and ITV – as well as a print stint before. Her former ITV colleague Robert Peston has said it's 'hard to think of better qualified candidate'. However, given she is only months into her role as the Chancellor's Director of Strategic Communications, would Stratton want a change so soon?

Isabel Oakeshott, 15/1

Although Oakeshott has been critical of the government at times, she is on the Prime Minister's wavelength when it comes to Brexit. She also came to Dominic Cummings’ defence when few did after it emerged he had travelled from London to Durham during lockdown – suggesting he had 'said enough and we should all move on'. An experienced print journalist who is also a regular pundit, Oakeshott is unafraid of stirring things and tends to brush off criticism. Her thick skin could make her a ratings friendly pick for the high profile gig.

James Landale, 10/1 

Landale has often found himself on runners and riders list for plum media jobs to little avail – missing out on BBC political editor to Laura Kuenssberg – but could this be the exception? While some in No. 10 would ideally like to see a female win the coveted role, the BBC's Diplomatic Correspondent has a wealth of experience in the lobby and is an unflappable broadcaster. Landale was previously approached for the job of Director of Communications under Theresa May – but said he declined the offer. Would this role – which guarantees more time in the spotlight – be enough to encourage him to make the jump?

Vicki Young, 40/1

While it's not clear where Young sits politically, the BBC's chief political correspondent on the surface appears to meet several of No. 10's requirements. Few broadcasters will have spent as much time in front of the cameras, and have as much experience covering Westminster – covering three general elections in her current role. Mr S notes that Young tweeted out a simple ‘Well’, when the position was announced – while that it some way off a job application, she had plenty of fans in the comments urging her to apply.

Beth Rigby, 80/1

They say keep your friends close and your enemies closer. Were Beth Rigby the one answering questions rather thank asking them at the daily press conferences, it would certainly be less confrontational for the government. A fierce interrogator of Johnson and his ministers, Rigby has won the respect of some in No. 10. Hiring her would signal to the lobby that the government is taking the new live briefings seriously – though getting Rigby to say yes would probably be the harder part...

Chloe Westley, 20/1 

Often a company says they want to make an external hire and ends up picking someone already in the building. So, is Chloe Westley worth an outside bet? The Australian free marketeer – who loves low tax – went into No. 10 to improve the digital operation soon after Johnson won the leadership. Before that she was touring television studios on behalf of the Tax Payer's Alliance – racking up appearances on Question Time, Andrew Marr and Sky News. Happy to clash with journalists (see her encounter with Adam Boulton), Westley could be an enthusiastic pick for the People's Government's chief representative. 

Rosie Bate Williams, 25/1

An instrumental member of the Downing Street press team, could the powers-that-be conclude that the best way to keep these briefings on-message is to appoint someone who has been there from the beginning? As a member of Johnson's leadership team, Bate Williams would be a spokesperson the current operation would instantly trust. 

Sophy Ridge, 20/1

An experienced broadcaster who goes toe-to-toe with Cabinet Ministers on a weekly basis, Ridge appears to meet all the requirements from the Downing Street end – with her Sunday Ridge on Sunday show rated by the No. 10 comms team.  Whether she would want to give up a weekly Sunday interviews show for a daily outing on the other side remains in the air. 

Alastair Stewart, 15/1 

The veteran ITV broadcaster left his role recently so in theory could be in the market for a new gig. Stewart brings decades of experience and – crucially – is broadly in favour of No. 10's media shake-up. Writing for Coffee House, he says: 'There is more merit in having a free and frank exchange between press and politicians, in the full glare of the TV lights, than in continuing with the semi-secretive pantomime of the lobby'.

Liz Bates, 60/1 

Channel 4 and No. 10 are rarely pitched as a classic combo but there is an argument that the broadcaster's political correspondent would be a desirable hire for the government. With No. 10 keen to focus on their level up agenda and consolidating their voter base in the so-called 'blue wall', Bates's previous stint at the Yorkshire Post could come in handy. However, given Bates previously worked for a Labour MP, she would likely take some convincing.

Tom Newton Dunn, 80/1

He's only just made the jump from print to broadcast as Times Radio's Chief Political Commentator – but with the jury out on News UK's latest venture, could TND conclude that he will get better airtime as the UK's first ever C. J. Cregg? As a former lobby chair, Newton Dunn is a seasoned hand who would be wise to potential gotcha questions from hacks.

Camilla Tominey, 30/1

Tominey may be a print journalist by name – but the Telegraph's Associate Editor is also a regular face on television with multiple appearances on primetime current affairs shows. Quick, articulate and in tune – in large – with the Johnson agenda, she would be an easy fit who would bring character to the daily event. 

Emily Maitlis, 100/1

This No. 10 operation likes to shock and it's hard to imagine a more surprising appointment than Emily Maitlis. In recent months, Maitlis has become a figurehead for the No. 10 resistance – her Dominic Cummings monologue following his trip from London to Durham during lockdown was ruled by the BBC to have fallen short of the required standards of due impartiality. The BBC presenter doesn't appear to be particularly thrilled about the new lobby format either. 

On Thursday evening, she shared an old Adam Boulton column suggesting No. 10 is trying to control the media – which was later deleted. But could Maitlis conclude that the best way to make a difference is to be the change you want to see in the world? 

And finally, what about a truly left field choice – more celebrity than hack? While daytime television star Richard Madeley's people have sadly said he is not being lined up for the role, former Good Morning Britain presenter Anne Diamond has suggested she could be up for it. Alternatively Johnson could bring an Apprentice style-vibe – and Trump-esque – and ask one-time judge and Tory peer Karren Brady to step up.

Suggestions on a postcard please.

Written bySteerpike

Steerpike is The Spectator's gossip columnist, serving up the latest tittle tattle from Westminster and beyond. Email tips to steerpike@spectator.co.uk.

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