At first blush, a former Guardian journalist might not seem like the obvious choice as the face of a Conservative government. But Allegra Stratton’s credentials don’t exactly fit the left-leaning mould associated with her former employer. Tatler magazine has hailed her Tory connections as “exemplary”, as well they might; she is married to James Forsyth, political editor of The Spectator magazine, and Chancellor Rishi Sunak – with whom she’s been working in her current role as director of communications at the Treasury – was best man at their wedding in 2011. In 2017, Politico dubbed Stratton and Forsyth a “Westminster power couple”. Forsyth and Sunak, meanwhile, have been friends since their schooldays at Winchester College.
So who is the 39-year-old former journalist, set to be announced as the Government’s new press secretary, with responsibility for leading Number 10’s controversial televised press briefings? Born as one of four siblings in Chiswick, West London, Stratton was educated at Latymer Upper School, an independent school nearby, and went on to read archaeology and anthropology at Emmanuel College, Cambridge.
Her father, an international translator, and her mother, a retired librarian turned textile artist specialising in embroidery, named their daughter after Lord Byron’s illegitimate daughter, who died of typhus aged five. “I was told the story growing up and I remember feeling trepidatious as my fifth birthday approached in case I would die,” Stratton once told The Telegraph.
She grew up determined to become a journalist and has said that even, as a child, she “couldn’t help posing questions and trying to understand how the world worked and how it all joined up”.
Her media career began with a job as a BBC producer, before she was appointed as a political correspondent at The Guardian.
In 2006, her non-fiction book Muhajababes was published, taking as its subject matter Middle Eastern youth culture and based on Stratton’s own travels in the region at the age of 24.
In 2011 she returned to the BBC as political editor of Newsnight, a role in which she didn’t always succeed in avoiding criticism. In 2012, she interviewed a young single mother called Shanene Thorpe for a segment on the Coalition Government’s planned welfare cuts. Thorpe was incorrectly portrayed as unemployed, and the programme was accused of humiliating and demonising a single mother. Newsnight’s editor later apologised to the interviewee, and an apology also ran online and on air.
A more redeeming episode for Stratton came when she refused to take part in a misjudged Newsnight broadcast that saw Lord McAlpine wrongly smeared as being implicated in child abuse. The BBC subsequently had to pay out damages to him after he brought a libel claim.
In 2015, Stratton left the BBC again, this time to take up the job of national editor at ITV News. She also co-presented Peston on Sunday.
She lives in Islington with Forsyth (who proposed to her on Primrose Hill in North London) and their two young children, Vaughn and Xanthe. She was once a keen rower, and has cited as her heroes the 19th century novelist George Eliot, journalist Stephanie Flanders and comedian Tina Fey. She also once declared she would like to put up a statue to 18th century womens’ rights activist Mary Wollstonecraft on Newington Green near her home, in the hypothetical scenario of her becoming London mayor.
It wasn’t until this year that she quit journalism and went to work for Sunak. Her new role at Number 10 has been criticised for undermining Parliament’s sovereignty by bypassing the Chamber and bestowing a more presidential role on the Prime Minister. For Stratton herself, it is arguably an interesting move for someone who once told The Telegraph “I don’t do spin”. She also once said the best piece of advice she’d been given came from her old boss at The Guardian, then political editor Patrick Wintour: “It’s as important to be good as to get a good story.”
In following the well-trodden path from journalism to politics (some would say too well-trodden), Stratton has moved from speaking truth to power, to speaking on behalf of power. How easy it will be for her to avoid doing “spin” remains, of course, to be seen.