Heavyweights from finance and media prepare to join new team

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Indy Politics

With backgrounds in Whitehall, the City and the media, Michael Howard's tight-knit campaign staff will bring some much-needed weight to the office of the Leader of the Opposition.

Mr Howard's temporary headquarters, based in the home of Eleanor Laing, the shadow minister for children, in Tufton Street, Westminster, was equipped with computers and phones and other equipment as soon as the lightning campaign got under way.

The incoming Tory leader's chief of staff is almost certain to be Rachel Whetstone, his special adviser when he was Home Secretary from 1993 to 1997. Ms Whetstone, a lobbyist for Portland PR, was photographed with Mr Howard watching football at the weekend. The 36-year-old former Conservative Research Department official is friends with Tim Allan, Alastair Campbell's former deputy, and Benjamin Wegg-Prosser, Peter Mandelson's former special adviser.

Another woman who will play a central role is Catherine Fall, a Cambridge academic who is in charge of Atlantic Partnership, a UK/US think-tank chaired by Mr Howard.

On the media side, the most important figure is Bill Clare, a former Downing Street press officer who worked for Campbell before joining the Tory health team. The 44-year-old was on secondment at No 10 from the Foreign Office, where he had been private secretary to Liam Fox when Dr Fox was a junior minister.

Mr Clare, who shares with Mr Howard a passion for Liverpool football club, was once a member of the Tory football team. An effective press officer, he has co-ordinated the media plans for the Howard campaign and is favourite to become head of press at Central Office. However, Dr Fox is fiercely protective of his shadow health team, and is keen to hold on to Mr Clare's services.

Bob Seely, Mr Howard's Treasury press officer and a former Russia-based correspondent, has stood aside from his post at Conservative Central Office to join the campaign.

Another senior member of the Howard team who has transferred from Dr Fox's office is Gabby Bertin, a former investment banker recruited earlier this year.