'Olive' in charge after No 10 shake-up

 

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David Cameron is pinning his hope of rescue from the problems besetting him on a custard-haired Conservative – and it's not Boris Johnson.

The PM's political adviser, Oliver Dowden, has been given a beefed-up role as deputy chief staff, underneath Ed Llewellyn, in a bid by Mr Cameron to get a grip on the No10 operation.

With an expertise in the attacking form of political communications that has led to comparisons with Alastair Campbell, Mr Dowden is one of the most highly regarded figures in Downing Street. His new role is a sign that the Conservative Party is moving towards election mode.

Mr Cameron has ordered the shake-up after a disastrous seven months that have left the Tories several points adrift of Labour in the polls. No 10's response to the Andrew Mitchell incident has appeared weak and the PM's communications chief Craig Oliver has come under fire.

Mr Dowden, who studied law at Cambridge, joined the Conservative Research Department – where Mr Cameron and George Osborne honed their skills – in 2004. He left the Tories in 2007 to work for the PR company Hill & Knowlton but returned to the party to work alongside Andy Coulson in early 2009.

He told an American interviewer recently that he was in charge of "day-to-day crisis management" before laughing and adding: "Well, we're not permanently in crisis." In an apparent reference to Mr Mitchell, he said he was "surprised on a day-to-day basis – there's no accounting for the conduct of others".

One No 10 insider said: "We're now on a campaign footing."

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