Theresa May’s appointment of her former aides Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy as joint chiefs of staff is a remarkable turnaround since both left the government after clashes with David Cameron’s Downing Street.
Hill was forced to resign in 2014 after a Downing Street inquiry found she had been the source of briefing against Michael Gove, then education secretary, in a high-profile spat over Islamic extremism in schools.
Timothy left in 2015 around the time of the general election. In another well-publicised spat, No 10 blocked him from the Conservative candidate list.
Both are known as powerful personalities in Westminster, with a fierce loyalty to May. Those who worked with them say May’s political team was instrumental in running a tight ship in the Home Office, with other departments – including No 10 – often kept in the dark about their activities.
Hill, a Scottish former Sky News and Scotsman journalist, is described by former colleagues as determined. Formerly Fiona Cunningham, she worked in the Conservative press office for Andrew Lansley, before heading to the British Chambers of Commerce in 2008 for a year and returning to the Tory fold before the 2010 election.
Hill followed May into the Home Office, and was known as a staunch defender of her boss, who was said to be highly reluctant to let her go over the fight with Gove. Hill spent the intervening years in public relations for Lexington Communications, before returning on secondment to work on May’s leadership campaign.
Timothy had been part of the same Home Office team as Hill for the whole of the coalition. Former colleagues describe him as someone who “lives and breathes policy” and an extremely hard worker.
From a working-class background in Birmingham, Timothy worked in the Conservative Research Department in the days of Tory opposition, before running a tight ship as policy adviser for May in the Home Office.
He left the government to work for the New Schools Network, a charity supporting free schools, and his strong beliefs came to the fore in articles for the ConservativeHome website – some of which infuriated Cameron’s Downing Street.
An admirer of Joseph Chamberlain, the Victorian-era mayor of Birmingham and Liberal minister, he argued that George Osborne should not be selling the UK’s national security to China, and suggested that changes to tax credit risked the Conservatives not being on the side of low-paid working families.
Alongside Hill and Timothy will be Katie Perrior, the new director of communications, who has worked with May and Boris Johnson. Well liked by Westminster journalists and respected across party boundaries, she ran the campaign for Johnson’s 2008 election as London mayor before starting her own public relations firm, InHouse.
Lizzie Loudon, a former civil servant who became an adviser to Iain Duncan Smith and then worked on the Vote Leave campaign, is May’s new press secretary.
The new prime minister’s policy chief is John Godfrey, another former Conservative party headquarters staffer, who has been working for Legal and General as a corporate affairs director for eight years. The Scot was special adviser to Douglas Hurd in Margaret Thatcher’s administration, and has warned about the threat to the union – a theme of May’s first speech as prime minister given from outside No 10.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010