Who is Allegra Stratton?
Former journalist Allegra Stratton is to be the face of the government’s new daily press conferences. Se Boris Johnson’s new regime goes to plan, she’ll become a familiar face across the nation. But just who is she?
Stratton made her name in Westminster as a political correspondent at O guardião, before moving to become political editor of the BBC’s Newsnight programa, with a further stint at ITV News.
She clearly comes with bucketloads of broadcast experience – a must for what’s likely to be a difficult job.
Just as crucially, Stratton has already proven her loyalty to the Conservative government. In April she left journalism to do public relations for the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, as his strategic communications director. He may be nonplussed at having to find a replacement after just six months.
O guardião 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 O espectador magazine – which the prime minister famously used to edit.
Her connections to the Tory establishment don’t end there: her current boss Rishi Sunak was the best man at the pair’s wedding.
Stratton’s 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”, com O Independente'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.
The new televised press conferences Stratton will lead are to partly replace an untelevised but on-the-record briefing for Westminster journalists in parliament. The government sees the change as a way to communicate directly with the public, unmediated by the press – with one eye on the high-profile White House briefings of US presidents.
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.
’She’ll start the new role in the middle of one of the greatest peacetime crises since the Second World War, with a likely economic crisis about to unfold over the coming months and years. With politics as divisive as ever, and as the public face of this government, Stratton’s experience dealing with controversy will probably stand her in good stead.