Tuesday, 15 February 2011

The media: the Government has stopped communicating

There are problems brewing for the government's communications team that need to be nipped in the bud soon. I've written before about how journalists love to follow a narrative; if a story doesn't fit with the present day group perceived wisdom they are unlikely to write the story. One of the narratives developing fast is that the government has stopped communicating.

I've spoken to a number of journalists and commentators in the past week who all agree - in their minds at least - that the Downing Street communications team as well as a growing number of special advisers are ineffective. I see five possible reasons for this view to be developing:

1. The loss of Andy Coulson has allowed things to drift as Craig Oliver gets his feet under the table;
2. Departments are being buffeted by events making it hard to communicate action or tangible successes;
3. The new open and honest approach taken by the Government to communications - leaving the bullying, hectoring and spin of 13 years of Labour behind - is too laissez-faire;
4. Downing Street and the SpAds are not feeding the ever hungry media 'beast';
5. Too few media specialists are operating in key departments meaning policy wonks are being asked to do their wonking as well as brief the media.

In all likelihood it is a sum of all these parts that is allowing this negative view to ferment. It is rather depressing to think that the media may be less critical if their handlers use strong arm tactics. I hope the approach based on openness and honesty that was built up under George Eustice, Henry Macrory and then, although this is little reported, Andy Coulson continues.

It seems too many government communicators are trying to shut down stories in a cack-handed way which is getting journalists backs up. They are increasingly failing to return calls or react to stories quickly enough.

For those who worked in opposition now is not the time to turn their backs on years of goodwill built up by the Conservative press office. Instead embrace our famous mantra that 'speed kills' and fight back before the narrative becomes too strong to turn.      

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