Downing Street Chief of Staff

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Downing Street
Chief of Staff
Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom (HM Government).svg
Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom
Dan Rosenfield.jpg
Dan Rosenfield

since 1 January 2021
Prime Minister's Office
AppointerPrime Minister
First holderDavid Wolfson
Website10 Downing Street

The Downing Street chief of staff is the most senior political appointee in the Office of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, acting as a senior aide to the prime minister, a powerful, non-ministerial position within Her Majesty's Government.

The role of chief of staff initially had executive authority, and at the time of its creation, was referred to as "almost certainly the most powerful unelected official in the country", and possibly "the third most powerful altogether" after the prime minister and the chancellor of the exchequer.[1] Since 2007 the role does not legally have executive authority, although the post holder remains by definition the senior adviser to the prime minister.

From 1997 to 2019 and since 2020, the title of chief of staff has been held by the most senior special adviser at Downing Street. The office has been held since 1 January 2021 by former principal private secretary to Alistair Darling and George Osborne, Dan Rosenfield.


The chief of staff is an appointed special advisor or a career civil servant who is personally and politically close to the prime minister. The responsibilities of the post have varied according to the wishes of the sitting prime minister. Since the chief of staff is at the centre of the Downing Street operation, he or she will always be influential and closely involved in government policy formulation and implementation, political strategy and communication, and generally advising the prime minister.


The first official chief of staff in 10 Downing Street was David Wolfson, under Margaret Thatcher from 1979 to 1985.[2] The position of Downing Street Chief of Staff was recreated by Tony Blair upon his becoming prime minister in 1997[citation needed] and Jonathan Powell held the post for ten years.

In 1997 Tony Blair gave his chief of staff, a special advisor, 'unprecedented powers' to issue orders to civil servants.[3] Previously the Cabinet secretary had been the most senior non-ministerial figure in the British Government, and along with the principal private secretary to the prime minister had supported the prime minister in the running of 10 Downing Street. Following the creation of the role, the chief of staff supplanted the principal private secretary in running Downing Street operations and effectively replaced the power of the Cabinet secretary in terms of co-ordinating government policy.

Although the Cabinet secretary continued to be a highly important role, through remaining responsible for making sure that the civil service was organised effectively and was capable of delivering the Government's objectives,[4] the chief of staff replaced the Cabinet Secretary as the "right-hand man" for the prime minister.[5] "Powell had been at the epicentre of power. As Tony Blair's chief of staff, he was the ultimate fixer, the prime minister's first line of defence against events, baby-catcher in chief. When things went wrong, people called Powell."[6]

When Powell stood down as chief of staff at the end of the Blair premiership in June 2007, the incoming prime minister, Gordon Brown, temporarily appointed civil servant Tom Scholar as both Downing Street chief of staff and principal private secretary to the prime minister. This was changed upon Scholar's scheduled departure in January 2008, when the title chief of staff was divided amongst two posts in an attempt to split the political policy communication role from the management of civil servants within Number 10.[7] As such, senior civil servant Jeremy Heywood replaced Scholar as principal private secretary to the prime minister, a position he had held under Tony Blair several years earlier, with the role of chief of strategy and principal advisor to the prime minister (effectively chief of staff) being given to political advisor Stephen Carter.[7][8]

After less than a year in the post Carter resigned, becoming a minister and receiving a peerage amid speculation that his part of the chief of staff role had insufficient authority to direct cross-government operations.[9] Heywood continued as both principal private secretary and Downing Street Chief of Staff for the remainder of the Brown Premiership. Upon David Cameron becoming prime minister in May 2010, Heywood returned to the civil service, enabling him to be appointed as the first Downing Street Permanent Secretary. He was replaced as Downing Street chief of staff by Conservative advisor Edward Llewellyn. Cameron also created the role of Downing Street deputy chief of staff, with responsibility for supporting the chief of staff, which was given to Catherine Fall.[10]

Theresa May appointed two joint chiefs of staff in Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill upon becoming prime minister in 2016.[11] Former minister Gavin Barwell succeeded Timothy and Hill after the 2017 general election.[12] The formal title was out of use between July 2019 and November 2020, under prime minister Boris Johnson, when the role was overseen by Dominic Cummings as chief adviser and Edward Lister as chief strategic adviser.[13] However, during this time, Cummings was noted to be the de facto chief of staff.[14][15][16] When Cummings departed Downing Street, Johnson appointed Lister as acting chief of staff.[17] Lister was succeeded by the current chief of staff, Dan Rosenfield, who took office at the start of 2021.[18]

List of Downing Street Chiefs of Staff[edit]

  Denotes service as acting Chief of Staff
Downing Street Chief of Staff
Portrait Name
Term of office Party Ministry
David Wolfson
1979 1985 Conservative Thatcher I
Thatcher II
Vacant 1985 - 2 May 1997
Various de facto Chiefs of Staff
Jonathan Powell crop.jpg Jonathan Powell
(born 1956)
2 May 1997 27 June 2007 Labour Blair I
Blair II
Blair III
Tom Scholar
(born 1968)
27 June 2007 23 January 2008 Independent Brown
Stephen Carter
(born 1964)
23 January 2008 10 October 2008 Labour
Sir Jeremy Heywood, Cabinet Secretary, January 2015 (cropped).jpg Jeremy Heywood
10 October 2008 11 May 2010 Independent
S465 EdLlewellyn2017 GOVUK.jpg Edward Llewellyn
(born 1965)
11 May 2010 13 July 2016 Conservative Cameron–Clegg
Cameron II
Fiona Hill
(born 1973)
14 July 2016 9 June 2017 Conservative May I
Nick Timothy
(born 1980)
Official portrait of Lord Barwell crop 2.jpg Gavin Barwell
(born 1972)
10 June 2017 24 July 2019 Conservative May II
Vacant 24 July 2019 - 13 November 2020
Dominic Cummings as Chief Adviser to the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
S465 Sir Edward Lister.jpg The Lord Udny-Lister
(born 1949)
13 November 2020 1 January 2021 Conservative Johnson II
Dan Rosenfield.jpg Dan Rosenfield
(born 1977)
1 January 2021 Incumbent Independent

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ian Katz (2008-03-15). "The inside man". The Guardian. London.
  2. ^ "Lord Wolfson of Sunningdale, businessman who became Mrs Thatcher's chief of staff at No 10 – obituary". The Telegraph. 14 March 2021. Retrieved 15 March 2021.
  3. ^ Nick Assinder. Jonathan Powell BBC 14 July 2004. (Accessed 25 September 2007)
  4. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 28 June 2010. Retrieved 16 June 2010.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  5. ^ Assinder, Nick (14 July 2004). "Profile: Jonathan Powell". BBC News.
  6. ^ Katz, Ian (15 March 2008). "The inside man". The Guardian. London.
  7. ^ a b Wintour, Patrick (24 January 2008). "Brown's chief of staff leaves for Treasury post".
  8. ^ "Brown appoints new chief of staff". BBC News. 23 January 2008.
  9. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 15 September 2010. Retrieved 16 June 2010.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  10. ^ Rogers, Simon (13 June 2010). "Government special advisers: the full list as a spreadsheet". The Guardian. London.
  11. ^ Mason, Rowena (15 July 2016). "May appoints former advisers as joint chiefs of staff". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 6 December 2017.
  12. ^ Savage, Michael (10 June 2017). "Gavin Barwell appointed Theresa May's chief of staff". The Guardian. Retrieved 24 April 2021.
  13. ^ Walker, Peter (24 July 2019). "Dominic Cummings of Vote Leave named key Johnson adviser". The Guardian. Retrieved 24 April 2021.
  14. ^ Parveen, Nazia (23 May 2020). "Dominic Cummings profile: aide at centre of lockdown breach row". The Guardian. Retrieved 24 April 2021.
  15. ^ Morrison, Sean (13 December 2019). "Key players in Boris Johnson's election campaign". Evening Standard. Retrieved 17 November 2020.
  16. ^ Wickham, Alex (27 July 2019). "How Dominic Cummings Took Control In Boris Johnson's First Days As Prime Minister". BuzzFeed. Retrieved 17 November 2020.
  17. ^ Black, Derek (14 November 2020). "The Prime Minister has asked Edward Lister to be Acting Chief of Staff". World Stock Market. Retrieved 14 November 2020.
  18. ^ Walker, Peter; Stewart, Heather. "Boris Johnson appoints Dan Rosenfield as No 10 chief of staff". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 November 2020.