Katy Balls

What the latest Downing Street row is about

What the latest Downing Street row is about
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The clock may be ticking when it comes to the Brexit talks but the news dominating Westminster today relates not to legal texts but personnel changes in Downing Street. Overnight the Times and Daily Mail both ran reports suggesting Number 10's Director of Communications Lee Cain was in line for a promotion to Chief of Staff. However, shortly after the news broke, briefings against Cain (a Vote Leave alumnus who has worked with Boris Johnson in government since his Foreign Office days) began – and government sources suggested no final decision had been made. 

The BBC's Laura Kuenssberg has alleged that Johnson's partner Carrie Symonds is thought to be deeply opposed to the move and made this clear privately. Meanwhile, anonymous Special Advisers voiced concern about the move this morning to Politico. However, since then, there has been kickback – with a number of current government aides as well as former Special Advisers voicing their support for Cain.

Regarding his suitability for the role, a Downing Street source tells Coffee House: ‘He's already effectively been de facto Chief of Staff and has proven himself as someone completely loyal to the PM'. The sense among many of his colleagues today is that for some time his role has far exceeded his communications brief anyway in terms of driving the Prime Minister's agenda. 

Why does this all matter? If you cut away from the noise, it comes down to the question of who has the Prime Minister's ear in Downing Street. The past few months have been bruising for the government and there's a general sense that Number 10 could and should be run more efficiently. However, when it comes to what would improve the current operation, opinion is divided.

The role of Chief of Staff was aimed at addressing such concerns. Yet there is no candidate for the role who would please everyone in Number 10. Should Cain be appointed, it will be regarded as a victory for the Vote Leave contingent. Should an outside candidate be appointed it would be read as a sign that this faction's power is dwindling. Judging by the events of the past 24 hours, both camps believe there is everything to play for.

Written byKaty Balls

Katy Balls is The Spectator's deputy political editor.

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