Howard's gang of three take charge

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Indy Politics

As Michael Howard puts the finishing touches to his keynote speech this morning, he will do so in consultation with three of his closest advisers. The Tory leader has quietly assembled an inner circle that, for the first time since Tony Blair came to power, rivals the PM's in terms of experience and contacts.

Stephen Sherbourne

The least prominent, but perhaps most important, is Mr Sherbourne, one of his two chiefs of staff. Now 58, Margaret Thatcher made him her political secretary in 1983, despite the fact that he had worked for Ted Heath. Mr Sherbourne's civil servant rival for Mrs Thatcher's ear was Robin Butler, her private secretary. His relationship with the man who became Lord Butler and is currently chairing the inquiry into intelligence failures was often fraught. A close friend of Michael and Caroline Portillo, he worked for tobacco and PR firms during his time in the political wilderness.

Rachel Whetstone

Mr Howard's other chief of staff is determinedly from another generation. Ms Whetstone, 36, is described by friends as a "Tory coquette" (above) and has been cast as Mr Howard's charming gatekeeper. A special adviser when he was Home Secretary, she then worked in PR with Tim Allan, a former aide to Tony Blair.

Guy Black

When it comes to contacts, few, if any, within Mr Howard's new team could possibly match those of Guy Black, his new political secretary. Most profiles of Mr Black, 39, concentrate on his relationship with newspaper editors and royalty. He is a former director of the Press Complaints Commission and his partner, Mark Bolland, is a former deputy press secretary to Prince Charles. Such connections are important but they have obscured his Tory pedigree. Conservative Research Department was followed by a spell as special adviser to Lord Wakeham, when he was Secretary of State for Energy.

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