Who is Who in Theresa May’s Downing Street

Who is giving the Prime Minister policy advice?

The appointment of Theresa May as Prime Minister has led to significant changes in the wider Downing Street team. Most of David Cameron’s team have left as May has moved in her own team who will be focused on delivering her agenda.

The team includes her core group of advisers who served her as Home Secretary, including her joint Chiefs of Staff Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill, and Alex Dawson who has moved over to Downing Street to run the political operation.

David Cameron’s Downing Street team was led by friends who had worked with him in the Conservative Research Department in the 1990’s. The core of May’s team is also made up of Conservative Campaign Headquarters Alumni, many who started working together during the party’s difficult times under the leadership of Iain Duncan Smith.

Those who started their political career during the IDS period include Nick Timothy, Fiona Hill, Katie Perrior, Sheridan Westlake, Chris Wilkins, and Denzil Davidson. The experience of the party defeats and factionalism in the early 2000s has had a significant influence on their political thinking.

The lessons of that period has taught them the importance of the Conservative Party being seen to address the needs of a broad group of voters rather than narrow factional interests, and the dangers of ideological obsessions cleaving the party from the worries of ordinary voters.

Other recruits to ‘Team May’ include those who worked for the Conservative Party during happier times and learnt the art of campaigning during the general elections of 2010 and 2015.

The Chiefs of Staff

Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill serve as May’s Joint Chiefs of Staff.  They have been central to ‘Team May’ since she became Home Secretary. They are utterly loyal to her and her to them.

Under the coalition there was tension between them and David Cameron’s Downing Street, which ended up with Timothy being taken off the Conservative Candidates list and Hill forced to resign. While Cameron’s team might have regarded them as difficult, their defensive approach worked to shield May from the mishaps which have befallen other Home Secretaries over recent years.

The Home Office came to be regarded as something of a poisoned chalice under the Blair and Brown years. A department that was difficult to control and given the nature of its role in protecting the nation’s security, extremely high profile when things go wrong.  Their adept handling of May’s reputation and their skills in detecting upcoming political man traps helped May become the longest serving Home Secretary in over 60 years.

Nick Timothy, Joint Chief of Staff

A lot has been written about Timothy, his upbringing as the son of a steel worker In Birmingham and the fact that he was educated at the University of Sheffield as opposed to the Oxbridge background of a lot of other senior political advisers.

Profile writers have the advantage that Timothy had a short period out of Government following the 2015 General Election when he moved to run the New Schools Network. During that period he wrote a series of essays from a personal perspective on the Conservative Home website on range of issues. These have been pored over in recent weeks for clues about his views and the impact that they might have on the May Government’s policy programme.

His political philosophy has been described by the Conservative website, Conservative Home as Erdington Conservativism, named after a Birmingham suburb. This political credo is focused on the concerns of working class and lower middle class voters; those who believe in opportunity but believe that the Government has a role in helping them to get on in life.

Fiona Hill, Joint Chief of Staff

There has been less written about the Prime Minister’s other Chief of Staff, Fiona Hill. Timothy and Hill are Joint Chiefs of Staff for a reason and they are both equally important to the Prime Minister.

Hill is a glamorous feisty Scot. She started her career as a journalist on the Scotsman, before moving to Sky News as a producer and then joined the Conservative press team. She left the team for a while to run communications for the British Chambers of Commerce, before being tempted back to be a lynchpin of the Conservative team in the run up to the 2010 General Election.

Her background is in the media, but her role is much broader than communications. She has been central to May’s policy thinking, playing a leading role in the development of the Modern Slavery Act, a topic that she focused on when she left Government in 2014 and joined the think tank the Centre for Social Justice. Hill’s influence is to be felt across the Government’s agenda, but with a particular focus on social justice issues. For example she has taken the lead on Government’s efforts to improve services for those with mental health issues.

Joanna  Penn, Deputy Chief of Staff

Jo Penn‘s role is to support the work of Hill and Timothy and focus on ensuring that the Prime Minister’s priorities are delivered across Government. Jo worked with Hill and Timothy in the Conservative Campaign Headquarters and then in the Home Office. Penn was a popular member of the team who earned respect for her grasp on detail.

She has worked in the Home Office as a policy adviser and as a researcher for the Tony Blair Africa Governance Initiative where she worked with the charity on delivering improvements to public services in West Africa. She also studied at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.


The policy team

The Downing Street Policy Unit will play an essential role in defining ‘Mayism’ and delivering on the Prime Minister’s wish to deliver significant domestic reform as well as a successful exit from the EU.

The unit has been reorganised so rather than having a Downing Street adviser shadowing department’s, the team will be organised thematically, covering issues such as social justice, security, devolution, industrial strategy and regional growth, as well as EU issues.

John Godfrey, Head of Policy

Godfrey heads up the Number 10 Policy Unit. He joins the Downing Street team from Legal & General, where he has been corporate affairs director since January 2012.

He previously held roles at Lehman Brothers and Daiwa Capital Markets. His experience means that he has a strong understanding of the City and the concerns of the financial services sector.

Godfrey has experience of Government from his time as a Special Adviser to the Minister of State at the Home Office during Thatcher’s last period of office, and then for Douglas Hurd as Home Secretary under John Major.

A Scot, he stood for seats north of the border a couple of times in the 1990’s. He was the candidate in the Perth and Kinross by-election in 1995. The seat was taken by the SNP foreshadowing the Conservative collapse in Scotland in 1997 and the beginning of the rise of the SNP as a major force in Scottish politics.

Will Tanner, Deputy Head of the Policy Unit

Tanner is a former researcher at the think tank Reform where he focused on developing ideas for reform of the criminal justice system. He joined the Home Office as a Civil Servant Policy Adviser before becoming a Special Adviser.

His role will be to work with Godfrey to oversee the work of the Policy Unit and to take the lead on Home Affairs and Security issues.

The team’s support from the Civil Service will be led by Natalie Black who will be a Deputy Director. A former Fulbright scholar at the Kennedy School of Government, Black has experience working for PA Consulting London 2012, where she worked on resilience and security, and in the Cabinet Office.

Alex Burghart, Policy Unit lead on social justice

Burghart is the former Head of Policy at the social justice focused think tank, the Centre for Social Justice where he worked closely with Fiona Hill when she led the think tank’s work on modern slavery. More recently he has been the Head of Strategy for the Children’s Commissioner.

His role in the policy unit is to lead the work on social justice.

Neil O’Brien, Policy Unit lead on northern powerhouse and industrial strategy

Neil O’Brien has had a long term focus on the need to deliver growth across the UK. Born and brought up in Huddersfield, he took a first in Politics, Philosophy and Economics, at Christ Church, Oxford.

He worked for the think tanks Open Europe and Policy Exchange. He was at Policy Exchange for five years where he led their work on economics. His publication Northern Lights which looked at the Conservative Party’s weakness in the North of England and its major cities was very influential on David Cameron and George Osborne’s focus on devolution.

Osborne brought him into the Treasury to focus on regional growth and devolution, and his role in Downing Street is to oversee the development of the Government’s regional growth agenda and the development of their approach to industrial strategy.

Denzil Davidson OBE, EU adviser

Davidson is another Conservative Research Department alumnus who started working for the party in the early 2000s.

The fact that Davidson was in the Cabinet of the previous British Commissioner Lord Hill means that his commitment to the cause of Brexit has been questioned by some Conservatives. These criticisms are misplaced; Davidson is a loyal servant of the Conservative Party and will be focused on using his inside knowledge of the EU institutions and personalities to make Brexit work for Britain.

The old Wykehamist started working for the Conservative Party under the leadership of Iain Duncan Smith and led the party’s work on opposing further EU integration and membership of the Euro.

During the Coalition Government he worked as a Special Adviser to William Hague at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office before moving to Brussels when Lord Hill joined the Commission.

Georgia Berry, Policy Unit lead on Energy and Infrastructure

Berry is joining the Policy Unit from Centrica where she was the Head of Corporate Social Responsibility. She is expected to take a lead on the Government’s work on energy and infrastructure.

The Prime Minister has talked about the need to invest in infrastructure as part of the Government’s broader industrial strategy and to build economic confidence following the Brexit vote.

Berry is also expected to have a role in the Government’s approach to corporate governance.  May promised “bold action” on corporate governance and to launch a consultation setting out policy suggestions in the autumn.  Berry is expected to take a led on this work.

Berry is a long term supporter of the Conservative Party.  Her mother is the party’s former head of fundraising.

For the key people in the Prime Minister’s media team read our other blog here.  

For the key people in the Prime Minister’s strategy, political and external affairs teams read our blog here