Former journalist Allegra Stratton has resigned as an aide to Boris Johnsonf after widespread anger over a video of her joking about the illegal No.10 lockdown Christmas party.
Stratton first made her name in Westminster as a political correspondent at The Guardian, before moving to become political editor of the BBC’s Newsnight programme, with a further stint at ITV News.
She originally jointed government as Rishi Sunak’s communications director, and was then poached by Downing Street to become the prime minister’s new spokesperson.
Stratton, who had ample broadcast experience, was handpicked by No.10 to lead planned daily televised press conferences – and was expected to become a well-known face of the governemnt.
It was in rehearsals for this role that the infamous video was shot – with colleagues asking her mock questions about the party.
But plans for the press conference were canned, and Stratton was moved to a lower-profile job spinning for the government’s climate summit. The Mail on Sunday reported at the time that some members of No.10 staff had “reservations” about making her the face of the government – perhaps based on the now infamous rehearsals.
The Guardian may not be the most obvious former employer for a Tory government spokesperson, but Stratton has long moved in Conservative circles. She is married to James Forsyth, the political editor of The Spectator magazine – which the prime minister famously used to edit.
Her connections to the Tory establishment don’t end there: her ex-boss Rishi Sunak was the best man at the pair’s wedding.
Stratton’s journalistic career has been one of a news reporter rather than a comment writer – so it’s hard to say for sure what her exact political opinions are. One clue however comes from her stint as political editor of Newsnight, when she provoked outrage with a report on the government’s proposed cuts to welfare benefits.
The government line at the time was that benefits needed to be cut because unemployed people were living on benefit as a “lifestyle choice”. Stratton lined up an interviewee to illustrate the supposed problem, grilling an east London single mother who received help with her housing costs and portraying her as an unemployed burden. The report however failed to mention that the mother actually had a job, rather undermining the thrust of Stratton’s framing.
To make matters worse, Private Eye magazine reported at the time that the future Tory spokesperson had dismissed several other interviewees offered by Tower Hamlets council, including a couple with four children who had lost their jobs and faced having to leave London. The magazine reported her as telling council officials: “You must have got people living on benefits as a lifestyle choice!” before adding: “People should think about whether they can afford kids before they have them!”
The incident provoked an outcry and led to headlines like “How Newsnight humiliated single mother Shanene Thorpe”, and “How Newsnight demonised a single mother”, with The Independent’s own columnist Laurie Penny opining that “Shame has become our stick for beating the poor.” The programme issued an apology after 50,000 people signed a petition.
Stratton, who was educated at the Latymer Upper School, a public school in Hammersmith, before attending Emmanuel College Cambridge, was widely considered an obvious frontrunner for the job of No.10 spokesperson. She was due to start the new role in the middle of one of the greatest peacetime crises since the Second World War, with politics as divisive as ever.
But the televised press conference plan never went ahead – its only significant legacy a little-used briefing room in Downing Street, and this week’s leaked video.
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