The key people in Theresa May’s strategy, political and external affairs teams.
The Strategy Team
Chris Wilkins, Director of Strategy
Wilkins is a Conservative Party veteran. The Welshman started working for the party in 2000 for the then Shadow Home Secretary Ann Widdecombe, during the leadership of William Hague. He subsequently worked for other members of the Shadow Cabinet, including Theresa May where he worked closely with Hill and Timothy as part of the Conservative team in opposition. His policy expertise and campaigning acumen led him to become the Director of the Conservative Research Department and deputy Campaign Director, working with Lynton Crosby during the 2005 General Election.
He left the party to take up a role at the pollster Populous before returning to politics as a Special Adviser to Nicky Morgan at the Department for Education.
Ben Mascall, Head of the Grid
Ben Mascall will take on the key role of organising the Government’s grid which controls the timing of Government activity and announcements. The grid is the mechanism which co-ordinates the Government’s policy and media strategy and horizon scans for both political pitfalls and opportunities.
Government produces a huge number of announcements every day and ensuring that activity is co-ordinated and helps rather than hinders the Government’s strategic message means that control of the grid is a very important role.
Mascall is well liked and respected across Government which will make is job easier in ensuring that departmental teams ensure that activity is fully agreed by Downing Street.
He is moving from the MOD where he was the media Special Adviser. Before his spell at the MOD he was the deputy Director of the Conservative Party’s media team and prior to that he worked at the Department for Transport as a Special Adviser.
The Political Team
Alex Dawson, Political Director
Dawson is a seasoned political operator. He was a popular Director of the Conservative Research Department during the 2015 General Election where he gained a reputation for coolness under pressure.
Following the 2015 general election he moved to the Home Office, replacing Nick Timothy when he left Government.
Dawson’s role is to maintain the link between the government’s activities and the political priorities of the Conservative Party, responding to opposition attacks on the Government and keeping his eye on political developments, ensuring that as well as administering, the Government is able to campaign and respond to the priorities of voters.
Sheridan Westlake OBE, Political Team
Westlake has been a lynchpin of the Conservative Party’s political operations since the late 1990’s. The former Guilford Councillor worked in the Conservative Research Department with Timothy and Hill throughout the 2000s. He advised countless Shadow Secretaries of State for Local Government. Famed for his encyclopaedic knowledge of local Government policy, he also has an eye for campaigns that speak to ordinary voters’ concerns, such as when their bins are going to be collected, and taking apart the claims of opposition parties.
He worked as a Special Adviser to Eric Pickles in the Department of Communities and Local Government before moving to work in Downing Street under David Cameron.
His role in Downing Street is to use his depth of policy knowledge and quick thinking to spot political traps in the Government’s policy making process.
Stephen Parkinson, Political Secretary
Stephen Parkinson worked for the Conservative Research Department in the run up to the 2010 General Election where he played a key role in the party’s target seats operation.
Parkinson was the Research Director of the Centre for Policy Studies think tank before a spell in consultancy.
He was a leading Conservative strategist on the ‘No to AV’ campaign before joining the Home Office where he worked with Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy as a Special Adviser.
He left the Home Office to become the Campaign Director and a spokesperson for the Leave campaign during the EU referendum.
Parkinson’s role is to ensure smooth relations between Downing Street, Conservative Members of Parliament, and the Party machinery and supporting May in her party political role as Leader of the Conservative Party.
A former President of the Cambridge Union, he has written the Union’s official history. Parkinson has a deep understanding of the Conservative Party and its history. He is the coordinator of the Conservative History Group.
Jessica Cunliffe, Speech Writer
Jessica Cunliffe worked for David Cameron as his political speech writer. In 2014 she wrote the Cameron’s key speeches during the 2015 election campaign and his well-regarded 2015 speech to Conservative Party Conference.
She is carrying on in the same role for Theresa May and will be working on drafts of her first Party Conference speech as Prime Minister in October
She started her career as a local newspaper journalist in Milton Keynes before moving in to politics.
Richard Chew, Political Team
Chew is another veteran of the 2015 General Election team in Conservative Central Office. A graduate of Emanuele College Cambridge, Chew impressed during the election campaign and was taken into Downing Street by David Cameron as part of his post-election team.
In Downing Street his key role is political briefings and working on lines and responses to ensure that there is consistency of approach across Government on key issues.
Edward de Minckwitz, Head of Briefing
Former Gloucester Cathedral and St John’s College chorister, de Minckwitz worked in the Conservative Research Department during the 2015 General Election. He moved to Downing Street to support David Cameron and now Theresa May in preparing for Prime Minsters Question’s and to support the Prime Minister and other Cabinet Ministers when they do media interviews.
His role is to ensure that Cabinet Ministers have access to political helpful facts to defend the Government’s record and have clear attack lines against the opposition.
Nick Hargrave holds the important role of giving a political sense check to government announcements and speeches. He will also ensure that statements made don’t clash with government policy and that announcements are coordinated between government departments.
Hargrave previously worked for Conservative Campaign Headquarters where he developed his expertise in campaign strategy in the 2015 General Election.
He left the Conservative Party to work in consultancy following the general election before moving back into politics to join the Downing Street team.
The External Relations Team
May’s team are keen to ensure that the external affairs role is much broader than liaison with business, but is more focused in developing the Conservative Party and its policies as a movement. The focus will be on building alliances with a broad range of representative groups, including charities, the arts, and civil society organisations as well as business.
Chris Brannigan, Government Relations Director
Chris Brannigan is a former Lieutenant Colonel in the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards andserved on eleven operational tours. He has business experience as an art dealer.
Brannigan was shortlisted to be the Conservative candidate for the Hampshire Police and Crime Commissioner and has attempted to become an MP in the past.
Jimmy McLoughlin, Head of Business Liaison
Despite the broader role of the external affairs team, business liaison will still be important for the Government, especially given the Prime Minister’s ambition to deliver significant economic reform and a more interventionist industrial strategy.
The key responsibility for maintaining Downing Street’s liaison with business will fall to James McLoughlin, the son of the long serving Conservative MP Sir Patrick McLoughlin who May has appointed as Party Chairman.
He has moved to Downing Street from the Institute of Directors where he was Head of Policy, a role that gave him an insight into the concerns of different sized businesses across a wide range of sectors.
Charlotte Lawson, Special Adviser, Third Sector
Charlotte has joined the Downing Street External Relations team from the think tank the Centre for Social Justice where she worked closely with Fiona Hill, the Prime Minister’s joint Chief of Staff. At the CSJ Charlotte was responsible for developing and building partnerships with businesses and other research organisations.
Before joining the CSJ, Charlotte worked in public affairs for the food industry lobby group the Food and Drink Federation.
She started her career as a BBC journalist before joining the public affairs team at the National Farmers Union.
Jonathan Hellewell LVO, Special Adviser Communities
Jonathan has been appointed to Downing Street to help the team build connections among community groups across the country and help the Government communicate its priorities to all areas and different groups in the UK.
He started his career working for Baroness Mackintosh of Pickering who was then a Conservative MEP. He then worked for Iain Duncan Smith, Michael Howard, and David Cameron as leaders of the opposition before leaving politics to work for the Prince of Wales as a Private Secretary.
Following his work for Prince Charles he ran the Lambeth Partnership, a charity focussed on supporting Justin Welby, The Archbishop of Canterbury, and his personal initiatives.
Jonathan returned to politics to work on the leadership campaign of Stephen Crabb before joining Theresa May’s team.
For the key people in the Prime Minister’s team driving policy read our other blog here.
For the key people in the Prime Minister’s media team read our other blog here.