Boris Johnson has appointed Edward Lister as his interim Chief of Staff following a power struggle amongst the Prime Minister’s inner circle which saw Brexit-architect, Dominic Cummings, forced out.
Edward Lister has returned to a role he held with Boris Johnson a decade ago.
It’s a new-old title for someone who has been close to Boris Johnson for a decade.
A long-serving local London councillor, in 2011 Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, selected Edward Lister as his Chief of Staff and Deputy Mayor.
During his time at City Hall, Lister was nicknamed “Air Miles Eddie” for reportedly claiming tens of thousands of pounds in expenses, and jetting off around the world with Boris Johnson.
When Boris Johnson was Foreign Secretary, Lister was brought in as “Non Executive Director”.
He was praised within Whitehall for cost cutting measures including the “successful sale of the Bangkok Embassy” which netted £420m, reportedly “the largest land deal in Thai history and the Foreign Office’s biggest ever sale”.
So when Boris Johnson became Prime Minister in 2019, Lister could expect an influential position in Downing Street.
Indeed, he was one of the names tipped to become the PM’s Chief of Staff.
But he was up against other factions competing for Johnson’s attention.
And it was the Brexit campaign Vote Leave circle – at that foremost in the Prime Minister’s mind – which won the biggest sway.
Dominic Cummings first, but many others peppered through government.
However, Edward Lister has remained in close quarters with Boris Johnson with the title of Senior Strategic Advisor.
Only last week his peerage was confirmed. Edward Lister is now Lord Udny-Lister.
During the coronavirus wrangling between government and mayors in northern cities, it has been Lister who has played a vital, albeit frustrating role.
As the leader of Sheffield Council put it recently: “He’s courteous but does the Government listen to what I say? No!”
Lister has also been involved behind the scenes with UK-EU negotiations, described as a kind of Brexit Ambassador or “personal emissary” for the Prime Minister.
Interestingly, the UK’s chief Brexit negotiator David Frost, is rumoured to also have been close to resigning this week even though he doesn’t hark from the Vote Leave set.
There are numerous other whisperings around Westminster about what is still playing out in Downing Street.
Not least the implications for government, and therefore the country, when it comes to Brexit, coronavirus and probably much more besides.
At the very least, securing Lister’s new title as Chief of Staff is an attempt to avoid a post-Vote Leave vacuum doing further damage.
There are plenty of other influential factors: Of course the Conservative party (and its various factions, notably the Red Wall Tories in the Midlands and northern England, and the European Research Group), but also other big names in Downing Street such as Munira Mirza, Director of Number 10’s Policy Unit.
And the woman brought in to front daily televised briefings, Allegra Stratton, as Downing Street Press Secretary.
And there’s also Carrie Symonds, Boris Johnson’s partner and herself a former Conservative Party head of communications.
Throughout his career, Lister’s number one interest and experience has been housing.
His supporters praise his “experience, influence and thoughtfulness”, detractors accuse him of running down social housing, and allegedly taking six-figure consultancy fees alongside his government job.
Inside Britain’s most famous terrace, can he put the house in order of 10 Downing Street?