Posts Tagged ‘David Cameron’

Lobbying washes whiter

When, in 2010, David Cameron described commercial Lobbying as the “next big scandal” in British politics, he drew attention to a strange truth. The work of the commercial lobbyist has all the necessary triggers for popular British outrage, not least because it’s conducted by a tightly networked elite behind closed doors. Despite this, the public and the press have never quite whipped themselves into requisite levels of ire for a proper witch hunt.

The practice is as old as sin itself – even the young Churchill dabbled in the dark arts for Burma Oil – and yet, for my money, the latest revelations surrounding Tory strategist Lynton Crosby will fizzle away into inconsequence. Labour have claimed his connections to the tobacco industry (his firm, Crosby Textor, advises tobacco companies) have led to his influencing policy around plain cigarette packaging. The Guardian today reveals that the firm has advised private healthcare providers on how to exploit weaknesses in the NHS. Neither of these developments is likely to cause irreparable damage.

Aside from anything else, the arrival of a new bundle of Royal joy into our lives is likely to prove a useful distraction for the Tories. Providing front-half filler for papers across the spectrum and a plethora of photo and comment ops for leading lights of Westminster, particularly Tories, government spinners will be looking to use this smokescreen to its fullest advantage.

Besides, the lobbying industry will by definition always have the PR edge. It’s a funny thing, but Lobbyists always seem to be immaculately turned out, beautifully spoken and have a gift for communicating their point effectively, reasonably and intelligibly. It’s almost like it’s their job or something. They aren’t heartfelt apologists – and neither should they be. They’re spinners, plain and simple. The best in the business.

Last week, we saw two wonderful spokespeople for the industry. I’ve expressed my grudging admiration for Lord Bell on this blog before. His opposition to the admittedly rather tame savaging of Sarah Wollaston MP on last Tuesday’s Newsnight was a masterclass of considered obfuscation. Repeatedly he drew attention to the lack of knowledge possessed by many critics of lobbying (“you don’t have the faintest idea what lobbyists get paid,” he acerbically observed at one stage). No matter that this lack of transparency is actually at the root of critics’ arguments; he looked unflappable and reasonable.

The other spokesperson was Crosby himself, who somehow managed to secure a gushing profile in the Telegraph last Wednesday. Eagle-eyed readers may have spotted a reference to Crosby’s big tobacco connections in para 15, but before this the piece praises a seemingly impossible range of attributes. Crosby, it tells us, is both blunt and subtle. Both shrewd and plain thinking. Both controversial and well-liked. Clearly, Crosby is a dab hand at wooing journalists. MPs, too, if the party’s much-noted morale boost during the term’s final PMQs is anything to go by.

I am not arguing that it’s impossible for this to become a true scandal – the press, and The Guardian and the Daily Mirror in particular, have been dogged in their pursuit of the truth. Politicians, as politicians will, have been doing their best to help them. Appearing on yesterday’s Andrew Marr Show, Cameron dodged a question about Crosby’s influence on policy, then answered Marr’s complaint with a haughty “well that’s the answer you’re getting,” an unfortunate outing for his old alter-ego Lord Flash-Heart. I’m fully aware that I am sticking my neck out here, but short of a major personal screw up by Crosby or Cameron I can’t see this going much further.

The PR mindset – which good Lobbyists most certainly possess – is all about controlling a narrative and, most importantly, facing down a storm with calm dismissal and mild good humour. Crosby and his ilk are more than capable of riding this one out for some time yet.

Dorries’ Jungle Stunt Takes Balls

Before even gobbling down her first kangaroo gonad, Tory Nadine Dorries has unleashed a storm of criticism for her decision to appear in televisual Hades I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here, with David Cameron yesterday backing her suspension from her duties as MP.  A rash of politicos have been quick to follow suit.

But let’s not be too quick to dismiss her stunt. It’s a bold move, and I applaud her bravery. As we know from her outspoken stance on abortion in 2011, Dorries’ is not a woman afraid of the limelight. Appearing in a show like this takes guts, and it is heartening to see a politician willing to take a risk, particularly in a week that has seen political paranoia ramped up to the max in the wake of Savilegate, resulting in the retrospective inquiry into the allegations of child abuse in North Wales.

She has taken advantage of an opportunity to bring her brand to a younger generation who feel disconnected with politics. Play her hand well, and she could genuinely change the way an apathetic public think about politicians, or even prompt them to think about them at all. In the jungle, she will have a space to air her views in terms the man in the street will relate to- and with 16 million watching, it is a platform not to be sniffed at. Whether the timbre of her stance on sexual politics will resonate with ordinary people remains to be seen.

It’s a high risk move. She has perhaps underestimated the power of the edit. The ultimate winners will of course be ITV, who have once again served up a compelling cast of those blinded by fame and ambition; a collection of individuals worthy of Greek tragedy. Gifts from reality TV producers are rarely what they seem and should be handled with care.

As far as Dorries goes, the proof of the pudding will lie in the eating. Will she have the personality, wit and humanity to survive and prosper in the jungle?  Or will she ultimately prove as unpalatable as a scorpion’s scrotum?

Of Pasties and Pussycats: One Weird Week for Politics

What a week for political communications. ‘Pastygate’ is a uniquely 21st century scandal which, regardless of what it reveals about the government’s relationship with the everyday person, certainly says a great deal about the effectiveness of its PR machine. At the same time, whilst Ed Miliband has arguably had a decent week for once, the Labour party has been shaken by a much publicised defeat in Bradford West at the hands of none other than downright weird man-cat George Galloway.

First, those pasties. For me, the entire affair was summed up by Paxman’s expression to camera on Wednesday’s Newsnight. The look I’m talking about came as Tory MP Nadim Zahawi defended his party leader’s inability to recall the precise location at which he last enjoyed a pasty. Comprising disdain, crumpled bemusement and downright remorse, Paxman’s face radiated not only scepticism toward a party unable to connect with its voters, but disbelief at the fact that this had been deemed a suitable topic for interview.

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Stripping For Votes Could Work, Just Nobody Tell Theresa May

The video of Polish politician Katarzyna Lenart stripping for votes has generated the kind of online buzz that other party political broadcasts (and I use the term in its loosest sense) could only dream of. Shot on what appears to be a pretty low grade camera and featuring a swivel chair that wouldn’t look out of place in the head office of a packaging company in Slough, it looks a bit like something you’d find on Babestation at 3am. Still, at least she doesn’t stoop to airbrushing.

The knee-jerk reaction is to dismiss this out of hand. It’s not just crazy, it’s obvious. Surely even the voyeuristic, big brother guzzling, internet porn fed, fetid mess of a world we live in wouldn’t fall for something so desperate. It may be getting watched, but it won’t win votes.

Having said that, futurology is a tricky discipline, especially in the fad happy world of politics. Perhaps Lenart’s dance is so mad that it works. Lord knows we’ve been waiting for something to kick off the ‘digital elections’ repeatedly promised- and denied- through campaign strategies over the past few years.

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The Pride Of Britain Awards Show How A Good Tabloid Can Still Connect

Daily Mirror Pride LogoI went along to the Mirror’s Pride of Britain Awards (airing tonight on ITV at 8) the other night, and in addition to having a bloody great night it got me thinking about how a good tabloid can get things exactly right. The Mirror’s repeated airing of what is a classic piece of event TV is pitch perfect.

This is event TV- as are Britain’s Got Talent or the X Factor, for instance- because it gathers and broadcasts true, impactful stories in a major instance, drawing together disparate audiences and engaging them in irresistible conversation. Like the funfair sideshows of old, it’s a destination show, with unpredictable appeal and undeniable allure.

It’s a brilliant publicity stunt: with David Cameron, Prince Charles and Ed Miliband in attendance the Mirror benefits from ready-made gravitas and a direct line to the great and the good. Since John Hegarty’s seminal Guardian interview in June on the continued value of TV to advertisers, the accepted wisdom that TV is dying a death has been challenged and re-appraised. Its now official: event TV, with real stories, still has the power to grab attention, start conversation and really boost brands.
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Struggling with Reality

It’s an absolute fact that once you’re in the public eye everything changes. Politicians in particular struggle to get used to being public property. Perhaps it should be called the Camcleg law of diminishing contact with everyday realities, at least for the duration of this Parliament.

‘Call-me-Dave’ Cameron and his wife Sam’s latest PR stunt is a classic case of hubris gone awry. Why take a budget weekend break in Spain to prove to the great unwashed that he’s ‘just like us’? It is unrealistic: we all know that his life has long since left the realms of normality. Read the rest of this entry »

Royal wedding? Screw the recession, there’s dosh to be made…

And so the day has come! Prince William is to marry Kate Middleton. Be of good cheer, Britain, there’s new blood being drafted into the old firm!

It really is fabulous news, in such tough economic times, that the cuts will not affect everything. In 2011 there will be something for the whole nation to celebrate, especially the merchandise sellers, caterers and makers of bunting. It’s really an early Christmas present for them all.

And better still, it’ll take place 30 years after Charles and Diana’s wedding. We will have a new Princess of Hearts – and the same sort of economic straits then as now. Perhaps we’ll get anniversary riots in Brixton and Toxteth too, only to have the wedding calm them down.

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Spin and the Art of Stone Throwing

Margaret Thatcher’s great spin man Bernard Ingham knew a thing or two about pragmatism. He kept himself out of the Westland Helicopter Crisis as he knew that even a whiff of his involvement would damage Thatcher. And he was surely very glad of the off the record Downing Street briefings that kept his name out of most of the other stories he promulgated.

How things change. The continued attempts to shake down Andy Coulson, who occupies Ingham’s position for David Cameron, are relentless – and are now getting to seem more than a little supercilious. Coulson is caught in the political version of some over-hyped heavyweight brawl – he is being pummelled on the ropes but his opponent is congenitally unable to administer the knockout blow. Read the rest of this entry »

Leaders, Prime Ministers and the Next Generation

A couple of first nights have grabbed my attention in the last few days, and both of them have presented interesting conundrums to consider.

The first is the production of Yes, Prime Minister that has just transferred to the West End. It’s a great show; very funny, very well acted and rather more radical than one would have expected from a comedy institution that makes it to the stage 20-odd years after its heyday. Buy a seat now! Read the rest of this entry »

Thinking Circular with the Smooth FM PM

David Cameron is THE great communicator in the new era of politics. His effortless performance on the Today programme earlier must have sent a shiver down the spine of the journalistic community. How will they get at this moderate, articulate, confident, unflappable and frankly relentless Old Etonian

OK, Dave is enjoying surfing on the bubbly froth of post-election hype and confidence, but frankly he is a fit-for-purpose, well-designed, media-facing PM. A shiny Middle England man in an M&S suit broadcasting his POV like a airline pilot transmitting a pre-flight weather forecast. Evan Davis could not get a word in edgeways . Instead, he was left covered in Cameron-slick as the PM steamrollered his questions.

Obviously Dave is briefed very well and is prepared for every battle; after all he is an ex #PR flak. But I detect a secret weapon lurking in his arsenal and I suspect has been trained well to apply it with maximum force. It’s a frightening technique I have not witnessed before – one that seems unique to Smooth FM Dave. Read the rest of this entry »