Every Prime Minister likes to have them: a circle of confidants who can be turned to for advice on how to frame a vital speech or make a key policy announcement. But in this government the hidden hands behind Tony Blair are as important as his elected aides and the civil servants who advise him officially. Blair's kitchen cabinet - or Tony's cronies - are a group of friends he has gathered over many years, from university, to his days at the Bar, to his time in opposition. As Blair prepares to address the Labour Party conference, and the country beyond, these are the people - mostly metropolitan, like-minded high-fliers - who are providing the unseen influence on his thinking


The Prime Minister's unofficial adviser on youth, Waheed Alli is one of Britain's youngest and newest peers. The 34-year-old Asian TV executive, whose personal wealth has been set at pounds 10m, sat on the government-backed "cool Britannia'' committee, Panel 2000, which was charged with 'rebranding' Britain. Alli, who owns a third of the television company Planet 24, which makes the Big Breakfast, worked behind the scenes at the general election, advising Labour on how to win the young people's vote. Alli hosts thumping parties for the New Labour elite at the Kent mansion he shares with fellow Big Breakfast director Charlie Parsons.


The Prime Minister's press secretary is one of Tony Blair's closest friends and confidants. A former political editor of the Daily Mirror, he is the Government's chief spin doctor, using jovial cajoling and less gentle persuasion to ensure favourable coverage for Labour in the media. When Campbell appeared for a grilling at an MPs' committee earlier this year it became a political event. He has access to the most sensitive cabinet papers and is one of the few privy to information about cabinet reshuffles. A bagpiper and keen football fan, he tempted Alan Sugar, the owner of Tottenham Hotspur, over to Labour before the general election.


Lord Falconer of Thoroton is officially the "deputy enforcer", working alongside Jack Cunningham in the Cabinet Office. After only two months the influence of this charismatic barrister is already being felt across government departments. He was a lawyer for 25 years until Tony Blair made him Solicitor General. The two men knew each other as boys in Scotland and later shared a flat - and allegedly girlfriends - in London. Charlie Falconer almost stood as a Labour candidate in the last election, but he withdrew his application at the last minute, avoiding a row about his children going to independent schools. He was granted a peerage last year.


The director of the London School of Economics is a key figure helping Blair to articulate a new political vision for Britain. Known as Blair's "favourite academic', he is the guru of the Third Way (also the title of his book, published earlier this month). Known for not mincing his words, Giddens is at the middle of the ongoing intellectual debate on how to redefine the centre left and create a new agenda for social democratic parties in Europe. He is frequently at Blair's side at seminars on shaping the new political agenda. He was present at May's Downing Street seminar on the Third Way and accompanied Blair to Washington earlier this year.


Philip Gould, Labour's opinion pollster and the king of the focus group, convinced Peter Mandelson in the 1980s of the need to recruit to the Labour party "bright young things" working in the media, marketing and advertising. Gould, who advised Bill Clinton in the 1992 election, is credited with helping to rebrand Labour and throw off its class-based trappings. It was Gould who helped coin the term "New Labour" and is behind Blair's policy catchphrases based on "emotional triggers" revealed in polling. Married to publisher Gail Rebuck, he runs a trans-Atlantic political consultancy from the top of the Express building in London.


A close friend of Tony Blair since their university days (they used to debate the moral implications of shoplifting), Hunter is one of the Prime Minister's most influential aides. She managed Blair's office while in opposition and was at his right hand during the election campaign. The ebullient Hunter offers frank political advice to Blair where others daren't. She is also the Prime Minister's gate keeper: sifting through the piles of invitations and, reputedly, deciding whom he should and should not see. Officially Blair's special assistant for presentation and planning, Hunter was shortlisted for the post of PR guru to the Queen earlier this year.


The former Labour chancellor and reforming home secretary, now 77, is the man Tony Blair turns to for advice on how to exercise power. The Prime Minister regards Roy Jenkins, who helped found the SDP, as "an elder statesman". Jenkins, who also served as President of the European Commission, regards the Prime Minister as "a most agreeable human being" and has entertained the Blairs at East Hendred, his home near Oxford, and at his west London house. The Liberal Democrat peer heads the influential commission on electoral reform which will report next month with recommendations about introducing a new voting system.


The founder of the left-wing Demos think-tank is a prominent member of the Downing Street policy unit. Credited with formulating the idea for Blair's Social Exclusion Unit, a task force searching for ways to fight poverty, unemployment and poor schooling. He was policy adviser to Gordon Brown while the latter was shadow chancellor. Mulgan got a first at Oxford, then sold encyclopaedias before lecturing at Central London Polytechnic while taking a PhD. The former director of Red Wedge has been critical of the academic left and recently said there is a "a hollowness in much of our intellectual culture which seems to make it hard for the left to engage with the argument".


Blair's pounds 87,936 chief of staff has tried to be anonymous, but his quiet influence on cabinet decisions should not be underestimated. One of Blair's most trusted lieutenants, he was a key negotiator on behalf of the Prime Minister in the Northern Ireland peace process. Irish politicians referred to him as "Tony's representative on earth". It was Powell who was trusted with the details of Blair's first cabinet reshuffle earlier this year. He first came to Blair's attention in 1993 as a diplomat at the British embassy in Washington. He is the younger brother of Sir Charles Powell, Margaret Thatcher's private secretary for Foreign Affairs.


The Australian priest who is credited with influencing Tony Blair to become a Christian while both were students at Oxford. Thompson, who was reading for a theology degree, is said to have convinced the young Blair that political awareness follows from Christian teaching. The two are regularly in touch and talk over the phone about religion and politics, with Thompson offering spiritual guidance to the Prime Minister. The priest's influence was apparent when Blair warned of "moral chaos" in society. In 1996 Thompson was appointed for a year's sabbatical to a north London parish and the two men have been frequent dining partners.