Boris Johnson is in the market for a chief of staff as part of a bid to shore up his Downing Street operation that could weaken the influence of No. 10 strategist Dominic Cummings.
The prime minister has already tapped up former Conservative Party chair Andrew Feldman, aka Lord Feldman of Elstree, for the role, The Sunday Times reports. But Feldman is said to have turned down the job, with a source telling the newspaper that “Dom was one of the issues”.
The recruitment drive has “got tongues wagging” in Westminster, and “all eyes are on” Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden as the next most likely candidate for the role, says Politico London Playbook’s Alex Wickham. Having previously served a special adviser under David Cameron, Dowden has the required experience, although questions remain as to how much of a “Boris person” he really is, Wickham adds.
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Other possibles include Isaac Levido, the Australian political strategist credited with masterminding the Tories’ landslide victory at last December’s election. Levido is “in the unusual position of having the respect of Cummings without being his lackey”, but the “hirsute Aussie” has also just launched a new agency, “so Johnson probably can’t afford him”, says Wickham.
Mulling the other likely candidates, the Politico pundit notes that George Bridges, a former Department for Exiting the European Union minister, is said to be “exactly the sort of ‘graybeard’ Johnson is said to be after”, while Vote Leave veteran Paul Stephenson has the advantage of being a “huge Cummings ally” and “trusted enough by the Johnson regime to do the job”.
Ben Gascoigne, the PM’s long-time political secretary, and Munira Mirza, Johnson’s policy chief, are also believed to be in the running for the new role.
Whoever Downing Street has in mind, the exact brief and title for the job could both prove crucial. When Cummings joined Johnson’s No. 10 team, the senior aide did not wish to be known as the PM’s chief of staff but also said he would not serve under anyone else with that title.
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