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2 February 2011

Craig Oliver to replace Andy Coulson

BBC man is surprise successor to Coulson as Downing Street’s director of communications.

By Samira Shackle

Craig Oliver, currently head of English at BBC Global News, will replace Andy Coulson as Downing Street’s new director of communications.

Oliver, who was previously editor of the BBC’s News at Ten and News at Six, will take up the post shortly for the same salary as Coulson. He was reportedly approached by the former News of the World editor last week.

According to Nick Robinson, the BBC’s political editor, Oliver had no previous political involvement, although he notes his interest in David Cameron’s early remodelling of the Conservative Party. Robinson offers an insider’s account of the negotiations on his blog:

Coulson persuaded Oliver to meet the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff, Ed Llewelyn to discuss what the job might entail. That meeting led to others – a weekend trip to George Osborne’s West London home and then onto Chequers to meet David Cameron himself. They liked what they saw and heard. After a meeting with Nick Clegg this morning the decision was sealed.

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Oliver said: “I’m delighted to be joining David Cameron and his team at such an exciting and challenging time. My background is broadcasting, but I know that newpapers play a crucial role and I look forward to talking with them.”

He is one of few journalists to have worked at the BBC, Channel 4, Five and ITV. Yet his appointment will take many by surprise, given that his experience is heavily weighted towards broadcasting. Krishnan Gury-Murthy, a newsreader at Channel 4, where Craig previously worked as a programme editor, said on Twitter: “Craig Oliver, former #c4news programme editor, intriguing choice . . . clever, shrewd and knows everyone in TV (but maybe not many in print).”

It’s also possible that it is a strategic choice: the BBC could be seen as an area of weakness, and the Murdoch group papers are already onside.

Cameron says he is “very pleased” with the appointment: “Craig has formidable experience as a broadcast journalist. He will do an excellent job in explaining and communicating the government’s programme.”