SOAS alumna on life at Number 10 Downing St

Alumna Katherine Allen - Head of Newsdesk at 10 Downing Street

Katherine Allen graduated with a BA Politics in 2011 as is now head of the news desk for the Prime Minister’s Office. SOAS Blogs sat down with her to discuss a typical day (“there are often curveballs”), working on policy she doesn’t necessarily agree with and, of course, that referendum held last June.

So what have you been up to since leaving SOAS?

After graduating from SOAS I completed an MA in Television and Current Affairs Journalism. I worked for two and half years at the BBC in London and Salford, before moving to the Home Office press office. I’ve been at No 10 since spring 2015, spending a year foreign affairs and a year as head of the news desk.

What’s an average day working at Number 10 like, or is there no such thing?

There are some things you can guarantee will happen, for example we hold briefings at parliament twice a day, and there are many, many (!) meetings I attend every week, but there are often curveballs. At the moment most days are heavily Brexit focused, as you can imagine!

What’s your favourite part of the job?

I’ve done a lot of foreign travel while at No 10 and been to places I wouldn’t have had access to if I didn’t do this job. Although the trips themselves are exhausting – often several 18-20 hour days in a row – and I picked up a nasty tropical disease in South East Asia, I have incredible memories that will last forever.

You went to SOAS, one of the most politically active universities in the country. Are you political and, if so, do you have to leave your personal opinions at the front porch?

SOAS put my politics on a firmer, better informed, footing, but it also taught me to be open minded.

Ha! That’s one of the greatest things about SOAS, in my opinion. I’ve always been very interested in politics, although I’m not as overtly political as some of my contemporaries. SOAS put my politics on a firmer, better informed, footing, but it also taught me to be open minded. I still have plenty of views, and actually working on policies you might not agree with is a good learning exercise, but as a civil servant, you do have to tone it down.

Tell us about that referendum you guys just organised…

Where to start… Not one of the highlights of my career! There’s lots to say with hindsight – I think we’ve given up on polling, for a start – but ultimately, I believe we didn’t talk enough about the great benefits of being in the EU. There was a much more positive case to be made and we failed to do so.

The demands on you in the day must be significant. How do you switch off?

I’m a foodie, so a good meal of any cuisine always makes me happy. I enjoy opera, theatre and sport, and I love a good detective novel or crime drama, the more old fashioned or Scandinavian the better!

I hear you are moving to a new role soon at another organisational pillar of UK society?

I’m off the Premier League, which will interest some people far more than politics does! Football is such huge part of British culture and a great global export for the UK – I’m really looking forward to it.

Do you have a favourite SOAS memory you can share with us?

I have many happy memories from all aspects of my time there. I learned so much, made amazing friends and just loved being on campus and soaking up all that was going on. Finding out my final degree result was a proud moment, and bringing my parents to SOAS to share the end of my time there was very special.

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