Allegra Stratton ‘was appointed PM’s press secretary on say-so of Carrie’ despite interview panel ‘recommending ”calm” BBC reporter Ellie Price for the job’
- Allegra Stratton was appointed as Boris Johnson’s press secretary last Autumn
- Claims she was handed the role despite interview panel backing BBC’s Ellie Price
- Planned TV briefings eventually abandoned last month without any being held
- Downing Street has denied that Carrie Symonds influences appointments
Allegra Stratton was appointed as the PM’s press secretary despite an interview panel recommending another candidate for the job, it was claimed today.
The respected former journalist was handed the key role fronting televised press briefings for the government last Autumn – although they were eventually scrapped last month without a single one being held.
But a leaked civil service document suggests that the interview panel actually backed BBC political correspondent Ellie Price.
According to the Sunday Times, it indicates that Ms Price was seen as ‘calm, concise and authoritative where required – and that she showed the strongest appreciation of the opportunities and risks of [the] role and how it could be used to set the agenda’.
In contrast, Ms Stratton was seen as ‘needing significant preparation’ and ‘a risky appointment’.
The document reportedly said: ‘She took a firm and authoritative tone. At points this raised the temperature and made things more combative.’
However, the PM had the final decision, and Ms Stratton was chosen after Mr Johnson allegedly told colleagues that his then-fiancee Carrie Symonds ‘wouldn’t accept’ Ms Price getting the job.
Allegra Stratton (left) was appointed as the PM’s press secretary despite an interview panel recommending Ellie Price (right) for the job, it was claimed today.
Ms Stratton was handed the post after Mr Johnson allegedly told colleagues that his then-fiancee Carrie Symonds (pictured together in May last year) ‘wouldn’t accept’ Ms Price getting the job
Downing Street has always denied that Ms Symonds – now Mrs Johnson – wields undue influence over appointments and policies.
The row was the flashpoint for a long-running power struggle at the heart of government that saw Dominic Cummings and his Vote Leave faction ousted.
Former communications director Lee Cain was said to have backed Ms Price, 38, for the role.
But Ms Stratton, 41, was asked directly by the premier to apply, having previously been special adviser to Rishi Sunak at the Treasury after leaving journalism.
A source told the Sunday Times: ‘Boris said Carrie would go bananas if she didn’t get her way.’
Ms Stratton was due to face the nation on a regular basis from a TV briefing room revamped at a cost to the taxpayer of £2.6million.
But after the PM got cold feet about the plan she was shunted sideways into helping Cop26 president Alok Sharma promote the global climate initiative.
There were thought to have been about half a dozen candidates in the frame for the role which came with a salary of more than £100,000.
Ms Stratton was expected to start the regular press briefings last October, but the launch date was regularly pushed back amid the pandemic, and the plan was ditched altogether last month.
The No 9 briefing room, which was installed with microphones, control desks, cameras and computers, will instead be used by the PM, ministers and officials to present press conferences themselves.
Ms Stratton left her role as co-presenter of the Peston on Sunday programme on ITV in April 2018 after two years in order to spend more time with her two young children, Vaughn and Xanthe.
She had reportedly returned to the show just six weeks after the birth of Xanthe in May 2017, initially taking her baby with her to work.
She also served as national editor at ITV News, a role she left in April last year in order to become Mr Sunak’s director of communications.
She was credited with helping to boost the Chancellor’s public profile and increasing his popularity during the coronavirus crisis.
Downing Street’s plans to introduce the briefings suffered a set back at the end of August after it emerged that Sky News and the BBC may not always cover the events.
The UK’s two major broadcasters were expected to only show the briefings based ‘on merit’ which means they could cut away early or fail to show them at all if they are judged not to be newsworthy.
The row over the press secretary job was the flashpoint for a long-running power struggle in Downing Street that saw Dominic Cummings (picture giving evidence to MPs last week) and his Vote Leave faction ousted