There’s no mention of the Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s latest move on his social media. A review of capital gains tax is harder to sell than eating out to help out. Instead there are pink slogans and a picture of him at Wagamama, looking like a model waiter (except for his lack of gloves — a rare mis-step from a slick team).
Sunak has the advantage of making popular decisions. However, the way he presents them is fresh, distilling them into slogans written over sunlit pictures. They look more like ads for tech start-ups than financial policy. It’s a measure of their success that there’s only one other Conservative MP known by his first name: the Prime Minister. The Government website has a section entitled “Rishi’s plan for jobs” — radically informal for Westminster.
Sunak wasn’t supposed to stand out like this. He started out far more tied to the Prime Minister than previous chancellors. Instead of appointing his own special advisers, he has a team who work in the new Joint Economic Unit, run by Downing Street (subject to Dominic Cummings’s approval). This was set up within days of Sajid Javid quitting after being told to sack his spads. Now, though, the person Boris Johnson brought in to be his man in Number 11 has become a political force. As Sunak’s success brings its own momentum, how is the close working relationship between the two departments playing out?
Be the brand
“In other countries, political messaging keeping up with the way we communicate generally is standard,” says a source. “In both politics and brands you want clear messaging and a visual approach so that as many people as possible get your policy. That might mean pink fonts, if that works.”
The man behind this is Cass Horowitz, 28, son of author Anthony. Horowitz set up a creative agency with his brother in 2016. Their tagline is: “Imagine David and Goliath. We’re the slingshot.” He also has political clout, having worked on Peston and Marr.
Journalist Allegra Stratton joined team Rishi in April. She knows Sunak well — he was best man at her wedding to James Forsyth (political editor at The Spectator, where Dominic Cummings’ wife also works). Stratton’s strategy is to let people get to know Rishi slowly.
The line about opportunity and dignity of work in Sunak’s speech last week came from special adviser Liam Booth-Smith. He was picked by Cummings to work at the Treasury but one of Sunak’s first requests when he was appointed Chancellor was to have the cool-headed “LBS” on his team. He grew up on a council estate in Stoke, and his views on housing aren’t old-school Tory. They’re working in parallel with No 10, where the big hitters come from Boris Johnson’s mayoralty and the Vote Leave team.
Munira Mirza, who worked with Johnson as Mayor, and her husband, Dougie Smith, are influential. In a former life he set up the controversial Fever Parties company. Cummings’s right-hand woman is Cleo Watson. Cummings knows her older sister, Annabel “Bee” Royston, who was an aide to Theresa May. The links go further. Watson has a dog who is friendly with Dilyn. Fellow dog owner Sunak also supports Brexit and a source says he “wants to be Boris’s wingman”. But as his star continues to rise, questions are emerging over how joined up the new unit can be.