Only the young and trusted dine at Tony's: Blair puts the emphasis on PR

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The Independent Online
THOSE who call Tony Blair 'Bambi' might, one Opposition politician reflected last week, have underestimated the ability of the Labour leader to be ruthless. Within a week of easing Larry Whitty out of his job as the party's general secretary, Mr Blair has constructed a private office very much in his own image.

As befits a leader aged 41, the emphasis is on youth. No members of the team who will work closely with Mr Blair are in their fifties. Four are in their twenties. Oxford-educated Mr Blair has included a fair sprinkling of graduates from the country's older universities.

And, as one might expect from a master of presentation, the media side has not been ignored: Mr Blair will have no fewer than four press officers (although one, Peter Hyman, will also double as a policy researcher). They include Alastair Campbell, a high-profile journalist who has taken a sizeable pay cut to join the team.

'This is generational,' said one source. 'These are the people Tony has worked with.' A frontbencher added: 'The private office advises the leader so there is certainly no point trying to create a sort of rainbow coalition. What he wants is people he can trust.'

The office staff are:

Alastair Campbell, aged 37, educated at Caius College, Cambridge, where he studied languages. Mr Campbell was a Mirror Group trainee journalist who graduated to become political editor of the Sunday and then the Daily Mirror. Brought up in Keighley, West Yorkshire, Mr Campbell is the son of a Scottish vet, and can play the bagpipes to prove it. Once known as one of Fleet Street's many formidable drinkers Mr Campbell is now teetotal. His departure from the Mirror last year took him to Today as a political commentator, giving him valuable experience of the Murdoch empire. He is also a freelance broadcaster. Duties: chief 'spin doctor'. Known as tough, self-confident and outspoken, he will take over the main day- to-day task of briefing political journalists.

Anji Hunter, aged 39, is the daughter of a rubber plantation boss and was born in Malaysia. Privately educated at St Leonard's - one of Scotland's best known girls' schools - she first met Mr Blair when he was at nearby Fettes. The two then crossed paths at Oxford where Ms Hunter attended a secretarial college. Later she went to Brighton Polytechnic where she gained a first-class honours degree. A mother of two teenage children, Ms Hunter is married to a landscape gardener and lives in Haywards Heath in East Sussex. She has worked with Mr Blair since 1984. Duties: head of private office. Will control access to the leader. Has a reputation for toughness, charm and loyalty to Mr Blair.

David Miliband, aged 30, educated at Oxford, was Secretary to the Commission on Social Justice and a fellow of the leftish Institute of Public Policy Research. He is the son of the late historian, Ralph Miliband. His brother is a researcher for Harriet Harman, Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury. Duties: head of policy, will draw together new thinking. Said by one colleague to be 'very bright and good at pulling things together. Quick on his feet - a good person for the television age'.

Murray Elder, aged 44, educated at Edinburgh University. Gave up a career as a Bank of England economist to work for Denis Healey, and then John Smith. Former General Secretary of the Scottish Labour Party, he was brought back to London by Mr Smith, to whom he was close enough to share walking weekends. Duties: relations with the party and the unions. A crucial link with the Smith era. Able, experienced and highly efficient, Mr Elder keeps a low profile but friends say he is 'very warm'.

Tim Allan, aged 24, educated at Cambridge. Former researcher and speechwriter for Mr Blair and worked on Channel 4's A Week in Politics. Duties: press relations.

Peter Hyman, aged 26, educated at Bristol University. Worked for Donald Dewar, the BBC and Sky TV. Duties: press relations, including liaison with Mr Miliband's new policy unit.

Pat McFadden, aged 29, educated at Edinburgh University. Worked for Donald Dewar then moved to the leader's office under Mr Smith. Oversaw relations with the unions. Duties: contact with unions.

Hilary Coffman, aged 47, Open University graduate and long-serving party worker who worked as press officer to both Neil Kinnock and John Smith. Duties: press work.

Liz Lloyd, 23, educated at Cambridge. Researcher for Mr Blair in his Home Affairs brief. Duties: research work for Mr Miliband.

In drawing up this team, Mr Blair has rewarded those who worked hard for him both when he was shadow Home Secretary and during the leadership campaign. Yet despite the emphasis on youth and the inclusion of many like-minded associates, he has managed to keep some continuity. Mr Elder, Mr McFadden and Ms Coffman survive from the Smith regime. Although outnumbered by the newcomers, their role will reassure some on the Left and in the trade unions that their voices will be heard.

As if to make the point that his door is open, Mr Blair has abandoned Mr Smith's spacious second-floor Commons suite in order to return to the more accessible office once occupied by Neil Kinnock. The leaders' fans last week were impressed. One MP described the team as 'much stronger than under Mr Kinnock when it contained a few corporals-made- up-to-sergeants'.

One phrase that Mr Blair's colleagues do not like used to describe this new team is 'kitchen cabinet', because of its association with the era of Harold Wilson and his cohorts. (The expression, though, was first coined to refer to advisers close to US President Andrew Jackson in 1829.)

But among those also expected to have 'golden access', as one source put it, are Philip Gould, who ran the shadow communications agency under Mr Kinnock and played a key role in the presentation of party policy, and Peter Mandelson, the former director of communications now MP for Hartlepool.

Mr Blair will also work closely with John Prescott, his deputy leader, his shadow Chancellor, Gordon Brown, and his former barrister employer and friend, Lord Irvine of Lairg, a frontbench spokesman on legal affairs in the House of Lords.

The Labour leader has yet to appoint an economics adviser, although this is expected soon. He regularly confers with several economists including Gavyn Davies of Goldman Sachs.