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The Number 10 operation is beefed up by two wise choices

By Mark Wallace
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DOWNING ST INSIDEIt's been common knowledge for a while that Cameron's team have been looking at a Number 10 shakeup.

The news today that Graeme Wilson, Deputy Political Editor of The Sun, has been appointed as press secretary is one result of that process.

It's a good choice - Graeme has a great nose for a story, and just as importantly is extremely likeable. Not everyone in the Lobby gets on with each other, to put it mildly, so it is both important and tricky to secure a candidate who is universally liked.

There are two interesting aspects to flag up. The first is that while parts of the left predictably moan about "another Murdoch man" being hired, it isn't that simple. As well as Murdoch's supposed control of individual journalists being very much exaggerated, Wilson hasn't always worked at The Sun. Indeed, he spent ten years writing for other papers before joining it - several of them at the Daily Telegraph.

A range of experience matters, because it offers insight into the interests and culture of more than one paper. If you had to pick, a combo of The Sun and the Daily Telegraph is a pretty good mix.

The second intriguing element is that it was reported recently that talks had been opened with Daily Mail Political Editor James Chapman, but he wasn't interested in taking the job. Lobby journalists will often team up with good friends from other papers to form lunch duos when meeting people around Westminster. They do it because they see eye to eye, they trust each other enough to divvy up or share stories and so on. James Chapman has a lobby journalist he likes to team up with for lunch - it's Graeme Wilson.

There is another Downing Street appointment today which carries just as much importance, albeit in a different direction. Gabby Bertin, who spent years as Cameron's spokeswoman, is becoming director of external relations now that her maternity leave is over.

This is a victory for Tim Montgomerie of this parish, who recommended back in 2010 that Downing Street should:

Establish an External Relations function. Too many leading think tank heads, opinion formers and bloggers have next to no contact with the Tory leadership.  The White House - like all good political operations - carefully nurtures relationships with all key stakeholder groups.  Cameron needs such a Unit for relations with his party and the wider conservative movement.

It's clearly good sense to foster warmer relationships beyond the bounds of the party (not to mention the need to foster warmer relationships inside the party) - particularly in an age in which membership is falling and the influence of third party groups on politics is growing. George Eustice briefly fulfilled such a role when the Conservatives were in Opposition, but wasn't given long enough to make it stick. Keeping supportive groups on board, salving frustrations and disagreements, and seeking out new support bases to work with will all help to prepare for 2015.

Number 10 are very keen to emphasise that the triumvirate of communication roles - Wilson as press secretary, Bertin as director of external relations and Craig Oliver as director of communications - all involve different things, and there will be no overlap or treading on toes. While beefing up the Prime Minister's team, they are also keen to develop better communication and co-ordination with the greatly improved campaign function at CCHQ.

All of this, of course, is the forming up of troops for the General Election battle. Getting good soldiers is important - next their lines of communication must be established, and an effective strategy for their use must be developed.


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