Palace at odds with Labour over Queen's new spin doctor

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PLANS to appoint a Buckingham Palace spin doctor are in crisis amid claims that the only candidate to emerge is too close to the Government.

With a decision on the job due to be taken this week, officials at Buckingham Palace have also complained that the Queen is being denied an alternative candidate and has been effectively presented with a fait accompli.

So divided is the Palace that the row may result in the plans to improve its public relations being modified or even scrapped, one source said last week.

The row arose because of the candidacy of Simon Lewis, director of corporate affairs at Centrica, the supply arm of British Gas, which is thought to have offered to pay half his pounds 150,000 annual salary.

Mr Lewis is a Labour Party member. His wife, Clare, raised thousands of pounds for the party as a corporate fundraiser before the general election. Well-connected in New Labour circles, Mr Lewis, 39, is on friendly terms with senior figures including Peter Mandelson, the Minister without Portfolio. He is also a friend of Julia Hobsbawm, a Labour fundraiser and business partner of Sarah Macaulay, the girlfriend of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown.

Mr Lewis's candidacy is being pushed by the new Lord Chamberlain, Lord Camoys, who is eager to seek the Queen's approval for the post this week.

But longer-standing officials, including Sir Robert Fellowes, the Queen's private secretary, argue that there is no precedent for the Queen being presented with a list of one for a top job.

Several senior ministers are known to approve of Mr Lewis's candidacy and point to the fact that he is committed to the modernisation of the monarchy.

Mr Lewis's opponents argue that his New Labour links might embroil the Royal Family in politics. They also fear that he may be more interested in raising his own profile than in transforming that of the royals.

Labour modernisers were yesterday keen to distance themselves from the appointment. One senior government source insisted that the job was "a matter solely for the Palace".

The Palace's attempts to improve its image have met obstacles before. The decision to appoint a director of communications, reporting directly to the Queen, was taken after the death of Diana, when the Royal Family was seen to have misjudged the public mood. Focus group research, commissioned by the Palace, found the Royal Family "remote", "out of touch" and "wasteful".

But plans to make a permanent appointment were scrapped in favour of recruiting someone on a two or three-year secondment from business.

Although the headhunters, Tyzack, approached around 200 companies, Centrica was the only one to produce a candidate.