Regularly heralding a statement or major announcement, the Downing Street lectern is famous in it’s own right outside of the Prime Minister’s who use them. Whenever it is placed in front of the famous black door of No 10, speculation begins to run rife as to what could be happening next.
Before Liz Truss had even opened her mouth to make her resignation after 45 days last year, journalists and commentators were exclaiming “the lectern is out!”.
After Rishi Sunak took custody of the keys to No 10, the lectern made an appearance once more as the new PM made his first official speech to the nation as leader.
But it was noted that the lectern used by Sunak was different to the one used by Truss in her resignation speech. So does each Prime Minister get their own lectern design? Is there some sort of political symbolism layered into the appearance of each? And how much do they cost?
Here is everything you need to know about these otherwise unassuming pieces of wood.
How much did the podium for Liz Truss cost?
It has been revealed that the podium used by ex-Prime Minister Liz Truss cost taxpayers £4,175. The lectern was specificially made for the former PM, who lasted a whopping 45 days in No 10.
Truss had two podiums made for her - one which was paid for by the Conservative party, and another that was paid for by the government. Responding to a freedom of information request, Downing Street said that it had spent £4,175 on the latter.
Responding to the news, Labour’s Deputy Leader Angela Rayner said: “Not only did Liz Truss and the Conservatives topple the British economy and spike mortgage repayments, they have left taxpayers picking up the tab for this personalised lectern.
“Her choice of a Jenga design should have been a warning sign of the chaos she was about to unleash. This grotesque monument to failure should serve as a reminder that the Tories should never again be trusted with the nation’s finances.”
How much do they usually cost?
The lecterns are mostly composed of wood, but they contain a metal core to keep them from blowing over. Their weighty design and reliance on good quality materials means the cost of manufacturing a new one is quite high.
Each lectern costs between £2,000 and £4,000, depending on the style, and they are designed specifically for Conservative Campaign Headquarters (CCHQ), which typically orders two and lends one to Downing Street. All charged to the taxpayer of course.
When a Prime Minister steps down, their lecterns are placed in the government archives and the CCHQ political archives.
Does each Prime Minister get a lectern?
The podium used by Truss featured a curved design, compared to a Jenga tower, whereas the one used by Sunak, made of varnished light-coloured wood, is straight and at first glance appears to be slightly smaller.
So do Prime Minister’s get their own lectern? The somewhat surprising answer is that yes, they do.
Truss sparked conversation last month when she delivered her first Downing Street address in front of her twisted lectern made of wooden blocks - Boris Johnson’s lectern was straighter and more traditional (reportedly intended to resist his thumping fists as he delivered speeches), thus the modern design of Truss’ podium stood out.
Before Truss, Theresa May’s lectern was designed by Fiona Hill, her joint chief of staff, reportedly to look "feminine”, while Baroness Sugg, David Cameron’s head of operations, designed David Cameron’s lectern to be "statesmanlike.”
What does Rishi Sunak’s lectern mean?
Though commentators will be pouring over the design of Sunak’s lectern to try to glean some hidden meaning from it, they shouldn’t look too hard at this early stage.
The lectern used by Sunak to address the nation was not actually ‘his’, and instead was a leftover from the previous administration. Of course, it didn’t feature Truss’ signature ‘Jenga’ style blocks, so it’s likely this lectern was a spare, ‘plain’ lectern, and possibly one on hand for other government’s before Truss’.
The reason Sunak does not - as yet - have his own personalised lectern, is that they can take three weeks to manufacture. With the whirlwind of events that’s been surrounding Downing Street in recent weeks, there simply hasn’t been time for him to design one during the recent rapid leadership contest.
That’s not to say he won’t be afforded his own, personalised lectern in the future though, and Conservative Prime Minister are each allowed to help design the lecterns for their time in office.