The drama surrounding Boris Johnson
ís advisers in Downing Street is not so much an episode of The West Wing
as of The Tudors
, with the kingís consort plotting against his favourite
. But the war for Johnsonís ear that saw his director of communications Lee Cain resign on Wednesday night is at its heart a struggle over the governmentís political direction.
The role of Johnsonís fiancee Carrie Symonds
adds spice to the story of Cainís downfall after a number of years as the prime ministerís most loyal and effective aide. But Symonds, a former director of communications for the Conservative Party, is an accomplished political operator
with a deep network of allies
in the party and in the right-leaning press.
ís trouble began when he came up with the idea of introducing daily, televised, White House-style press briefings
to replace one of two daily off-camera briefings for Westminster lobby reporters. Whoever fronted such a daily briefing would be the face of the government and one of the most important political figures in the country
Johnson chose for the role former Guardian and ITV News journalist Allegra Stratton
, who has helped to burnish chancellor of the exchequer Rishi Sunak
ís image and to make him the most popular member of the government. Cain opposed the appointment and sought to prevent Stratton from having direct access to the prime minister.
Johnson sought to defuse the row by offering Cain the role of chief of staff, a move backed by chief adviser Dominic Cummings
to guarantee that his Vote Leave crew would remain in control of the Downing Street operation
Reports that Cain was about to get the job unleashed a furious backlash
from Conservative MPs who resent the dominant position of Cummings and his allies. Symonds opposed the appointment
too, favouring a shift away from the combative style employed by Cain, who briefed aggressively against ministers and MPs and imposed boycotts on media organisations he viewed as hostile. Johnson apparently subsequently rescinded the offer.
Now that Johnson has seemingly defied Cummings over two appointments, Strattonís and Cainís, speculation has grown over the chief adviserís own future
. Cummings and his Vote Leave crew are loyal to one another and their shared project rather than to Johnson, the government or the Conservative Party.