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Last Updated: Thursday, 25 March, 2004, 12:31 GMT
Major's ex-aide is No 10 PR chief
John Major
Mr James worked for John Major
A former aide of Tory Prime Minister John Major has been confirmed as Tony Blair's permanent secretary for government communications.

Downing Street said Howell James had been selected for his ability rather than his political allegiances.

The role was created in the wake of the Jo Moore e-mail affair.

The Tories said the appointment of Mr James, a friend of Peter Mandelson and former PR to the Hinduja brothers, was a "strange way" to end government spin.

'Energy and focus'

A Tory spokesman questioned appointing "a good friend of Peter Mandelson to such a sensitive post".

If Howell James wanted an idea of just how difficult his new job might be, he could have done worse than attend the latest meeting of the Commons public administration committee
"And it is strange that Labour should want the services of the man who masterminded the 1997 election campaign for John Major," he added.

The prime minister's official spokesman said that Mr James joins the government with a wealth of experience in communications and will bring considerable energy and focus to the post.

His salary will be in the range of 121,000 to 203,000.

The appointment was the unanimous recommendation of the civil service selection panel, which included head of the civil service Sir Andrew Turnbull.

Two week stint

Mr James, 50, was director of corporate affairs at the BBC from 1987 to 1992 before he went to work for Mr Major.

Government press operation
Howell James - permanent secretary
David Hill - director of communications
Godric Smith - head of strategic communications
. Tom Kelly - prime minister's official spokesman
After the Tory premier was swept from power in 1997, Mr James became director of PR agency Brown Lloyd James Ltd.

In 2001 he briefly numbered the Hindujas among his clients before the agency quit the account after two weeks on the grounds the brothers were "too controversial".

At the time Srichand and Gopichand Hinduja were at the centre of a row over the way their passport applications were handled.

Cleared

Mr Mandelson, then Northern Ireland Secretary, had to quit the Cabinet over an alleged approach to the Home Office about the Hindujas who were also 1m donors to the Millennium Dome.

Peter Mandelson
Howell James is a friend of Mr Mandelson
Mr Mandelson was subsequently cleared of any impropriety by an inquiry.

The decision to create the post of permanent secretary in charge of government communications came about as a result of the Phillis review of government communications.

Mr James sat on the review which was commissioned in the wake of the Jo Moore affair.

Ms Moore, a former spin doctor, told colleagues in an e-mail on 11 September 2001, shortly after planes crashed into the twin towers, that it was a good day to bury bad news.

Meyer criticism

The Phillis review recommended whoever got the new government communications role would have access to the prime minister and "focus on a strategic approach to communications across government".

But chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, Sir Christopher Meyer, who served as John Major's press secretary in the early 1990s, said he did not believe the new-look media operation in Downing Street would end alleged government spin.

"If you have this new permanent secretary position and also continue to have somebody in Downing Street who is briefing on politics and somebody who is briefing on policy, I find it very difficult to see how this new permanent secretary is going to elbow in and make any difference," Sir Christopher told the Commons public administration committee on Thursday.

In written evidence to the committee he said he feared there would be "a permanent turf war between the new permanent secretary and Whitehall departments, including No 10, who will consider that they know better than he or she".

Meanwhile, in other moves, one of the prime minister's official spokesmen, Godric Smith will now become head of strategic communications at Downing Street.

Darren Murphy, who is currently special adviser to the health secretary, will join the communications unit as a special adviser.




SEE ALSO:
Mandelson welcomes report
01 Mar 02  |  Politics



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