Monthly Archives: April 2011

Did Government use royal wedding to bury bad news?

There was a flurry of excitement on Twitter this morning when Dr Ben Goldacre, author of The Guardian’s  Bad Science column, declared: ‘The prize for burying bad news goes to the department of health, 11:37 today.’

The doc was referring to a BBCNews tweet stating that the regulator of NHS foundation trusts had ‘warned hospitals they must make even bigger efficiency savings than previously thought’.

Well aware of the hell that broke loose after Jo Moore tried to bury bad news on 9/11, Labour’s comms machine roared in to action. Shadow Health Secretary John Healey provided PoliticsHome with the killer quote:

‘With all eyes on the Royal Wedding, the Government is trying to bury bad news on the NHS.’

But unfortunately for Labour it looks like the story was reported yesterday by Ben Clover of Health Service Journal,  and also picked up for the FT by ex-HSJ hack Sally Gainsbury. Both had got wind of a letter sent out to foundation trusts by health regulator Monitor.

It seems that the BBC finally got on the story this morning after it went out on the wires thanks to Press Association.

So the Government didn’t quite release the news as Wills and Kate tied the knot. But an ‘independent’ regulator came pretty close…

Lobbying chiefs slam their own lobbying register

It’s fair to say that the new voluntary register of lobbyists has not exactly been a stunning success.

The register was set up earlier this year by the UK public affairs industry’s representative bodies in a bid to influence the statutory register which has been promised by the Coalition.   It provides basic details of who works for who, but contains no financial data.

Before it even went live the voluntary register was greeted with bad press and things didn’t improve when Labour’s Austin Mitchell piled in to attack the scheme.

Now it transpires that even the lobbyists themselves don’t like it.

I have got my hands on leaked minutes of a recent Association of Professional Political Consultants (APPC) management committee meeting. They reveal that a significant chunk of the meeting was spent criticising the register, which is being run by the UK Public Affairs Concil (UKPAC).

According to the minutes, APPC chiefs lamented that the new register (which they are bankrolling) contained ‘significant errors’.

The minutes continue: ‘Members expressed grave disappointment with UKPAC’s performance to date.’

Oh dear.

Spin has a new name in Cameron’s Number 10

Spin didn’t die with Tony Blair and Alastair Campbell – but Dave’s strategists do appear to have at least come up with a new name for it.

In her Times column today, Rachael Sylvester writes that whoever (out of Cameron and Clegg) loses the AV referendum will not be compensated with any policy concessions. But the Government may put a different slant on certain announcements to help boost the political stock of the AV loser. 

One Government strategist tells her:

‘It’s not about changing the policy, but the political dial can be turned one way or the other depending on the result.’

Clearly, spin is dead in Cameron’s Number 10. Long live the political dial!

How I provided Clegg with killer AV soundbite

The Yes To AV campaign is struggling because people have yet to be convinced that the current system isn’t working. To that end, a greater focus is needed on how current system is broken, obsolete, unfair and fit for modern politics.

Or, as I tweeted early on 20 April in response to Alex Hilton’s nascent #saveyes2av campaign, supporters of AV should stress that the ‘current system stinks + Cameron [is] defending the indefensible’.

Clearly, Nick Clegg’s people recognise a good soundbite when they see it.

In a speech to the IPPR on 21 April, Clegg said of the No campaign: ‘It is a desperate attempt to defend the indefensible…’

A few days later, on 24 April, Clegg used an interview with the Sindy to repeat the new line, accusing the Prime Minister of ‘defending the indefensible’.

The line proved to be so catchy that it made the headline, standfirst and intro of the subsequent coverage in the Telegraph!

Any time, Nick!

Lib Dems reach out to ‘successful and talented people’. And their supporters

My exclusive that the Lib Dems are offering lobbyists the opportunity to hang with Nick Clegg for just £25,000 also appears in the Indy today.

The story is based on some intriguing documents that the Lib Dems recently sent out to lobbyists and other business types, outlining three new donor clubs.

One eye-catching quote in the confidential documents comes from Nick Clegg himself. He rather shamelessly writes:

‘You don’t have to be a Liberal Democrat to take part. In today’s politics, all are welcome.’

But Lib Dem Treasurer Richard Duncalf goes one better, stressing that the Lib Dems are keen for ‘the UK’s most inspirational, successful and talented people’ to join the new clubs. Then he adds:

‘Of course, it’s also a great way for our supporters to engage with the party.’

Ouch!

Number 10 grid man leaves. Clegg goes off-grid

Nick Clegg has been accused of a lot recently. But for some Downing Street media strategists his worst crime is to ignore the all-important media grid.

As I reveal today, there is concern in Downing Street that the Lib Dems are increasingly doing their own thing – rather than sticking to the grid, which is tightly designed to maximise the impact of government stories.

Clegg’s people deny any such rogue behaviour, but two Downing Street insiders tell me there has been much annoyance about Clegg’s recent off-grid activities.

The news comes two weeks after the retirement of long-serving Downing Street grid enforcer Paul Brown.

While the cat’s away, the Lib Dems will play…

NB. Sources describe Brown’s recent leaving bash as ‘a star-studded farewell party attended by a who’s who of Whitehall communicators of the last decade from Alastair Campbell to Craig Oliver’.  There were also goodwill messages from Blair, Brown and Cameron.