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Thursday, 8 November, 2001, 18:56 GMT
Blair's closest aide resigns
Anji Hunter
Anji Hunter en route to Number 10 Downing Street
The woman seen as Prime Minister Tony Blair's closest and most trusted aide is to leave the government for a job at oil giant BP.

Anji Hunter, who is director of government relations in Downing Street, will join the oil company as its director of communications in the new year.


Our loss will be BP's gain

Tony Blair
Mr Blair was quick to pay tribute to Ms Hunter saying that he wished her "every success" in her new job.

"Anji has made a fantastic contribution to government and the Labour Party," he said in a statement.

"Our loss will be BP's gain."

BBC political editor Andrew Marr says Ms Hunter began talking to BP before the general election and it was no secret that she wanted to leave Downing Street during this Parliament.

Ms Hunter, who has known Mr Blair since before he entered politics, has been a permanent fixture at the prime minister's side since he first became Labour leader in 1994.

His personal assistant is widely seen as the prime minister's door keeper, as one of a handful of non-elected figures running the Downing Street team.

Mr Blair rarely goes anywhere without her and she had recently been given an even more powerful role co-ordinating contacts between all government departments.

Fierce loyalty

She is known to have been fiercely loyal to Blair, advising him on how his decisions will play with other ministers and other governments.

Most recently she went with the prime minister to Washington for his talks with President George W Bush.

Sir Richard Wilson, cabinet secretary
Wilson approved Hunter's job change
Their relationship is sufficiently close for her to be known to sometimes choose Mr Blair's ties and she is said to be one of the few people who can enter his office without knocking.

Born in Malaya in 1955 to a war hero turned rubber plantation manager, Angela Margaret Jane Hunter was educated in Scotland where her family had later moved.

Teenage meeting

It was while she was a pupil at St Leonards private school that she met the future prime minister - then a pupil at the exclusive Fettes College.

Their teenage friendship continued after he went to study law and she attended a sixth form college, both in Oxford.

Ms Hunter married Nick Hunter, a landscape gardener, in 1980.

They have two children - Finn and Lara and live in Sussex.

It was while they were young that she returned to college to gain a first in English and History at Brighton Polytechnic in 1988.

Ascendancy

It was then that Ms Hunter began to work for Mr Blair full-time.

Throughout his ascendancy to leader she became his fixer and tactician.

Having won the 1997 election, Mr Blair rewarded his loyal lieutenant with the title "special assistant to the prime minister".

The second victory at the polls earlier year saw her elevated to her current role.

Ms Hunter had been tipped for a series of top private sector jobs including a communications role at Buckingham Palace but until now she has remained by Mr Blair's side.

Three month break

Because of her key role in the corridors of Whitehall, Ms Hunter had to gain approval for her move from Cabinet Secretary Richard Wilson.

Following the advice of Sir Richard, who himself consulted the independent Advisory Committee on Business Appointments, she will take a three-month break between leaving Downing Street and joining BP.

Friends of the Earth (FoE) warned her job move did not bode well for the oil giant's environmental credentials.

FoE director Charles Secrett said: "I'm worried that Ms Hunter may bring the indifference to the environment, which is so prevalent in Number 10, to the heart of this major company which has at least tried to think about its responsibility for climate change and environment issues generally."

See also:

05 Apr 01 | UK Politics
Blair's long road to June election
08 Oct 01 | UK Politics
Blair's war team
22 Jun 01 | UK Politics
More power for Downing Street
09 Oct 01 | UK Politics
War cabinet meets for first time
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