In March last year, the team led by then-British Finance Minister Rishi Sunak published a photo that drew a lot of ridicule. In the perspectively distorted picture taken from above, Sunak and his colleagues are standing in the stairwell of Downing Street, Sunak is holding the Treasury Secretary’s red suitcase, behind his colleagues are lining up around the two curves of the stairs, all looking up at the camera. Rishi Sunak is now prime minister, so the stairwell image has reappeared these days. “When you come out of the toilet at Wetherspoons,” someone wrote on Twitter, referring to the often long lines of unhappily waiting in the pub chain’s branches.
Prominent TV journalist Amber de Botton also posted the strange picture on her Twitter account at the time, along with a creepy photo of the baby from the movie “Labyrinth”. Rishi Sunak has published pictures and videos of himself that caused ridicule before, but it may well be that this will not happen to him in the future. Amber de Botton, previously head of UK news at ITV, is Rishi Sunak’s new chief communications officer.
Downing Street confirmed the signing at the weekend, giving Sunak something his predecessor Liz Truss lacked: a pro in a key position in his team. Sharing the role under Liz Truss were Adam Jones and Jason Stein, two in their early 30s. While both had some PR and government experience, they lacked journalism experience, which combined with Truss’ lack of communication skills contributed to their failure. The importance of a good head of communications is undisputed in politics, at least since Alastair Campbell, former head of politics at DailyMirror, 1994 to then Labor leader Tony Blair.
Among other things, Campbell now moderates the podcast “The Rest is Politics”, in which he explains politics with former Tory Minister Rory Stewart, in which he repeatedly criticizes the British media’s focus on the Westminster bubble. He knows what he’s talking about: In the 1990s he kind of invented the job of the “spin doctor”. Unlike civil service officials, he is biased; his job is to sell government messages – with the desired “spin”. This always leads to conflicts, not only in Great Britain the media still likes to decide the spin of their stories themselves. However, good mediation is of considerable importance for political success. Especially when it comes to uncomfortable decisions like those facing Rishi Sunak. Tax increases, for example.
Politicians often bring in well-known journalists as heads of communications, especially critical ones. Because only a Spin Doctor who recognizes the boss’s weaknesses is a good Spin Doctor. Amber de Botton led the ITV team whose revelations started the Partygate scandal, and the team won an award for it. Previously, she was policy chief at ITV and deputy policy chief at Sky News for several years, after working for other media as a parliamentary correspondent. She studied politics and history at Durham University, and as early as 2020 she was considered a candidate for the job of finance minister Sunak’s head of communications, although she has never publicly commented on this.
Colleagues like Sky News frontwoman Beth Rigby congratulated her on the new job. De Botton’s signing is now also seen by de Botton’s ex-colleagues as a sign that Rishi Sunak meant business when he said in his inaugural speech that he wanted to fix the mistakes of his previous government.