Memo: RE: Government Communications

June 16, 2009 5:04 pm

MemoDate: Tuesday 15th June, 2009

Re: Government Communications

To: Simon Lewis, No. 10 Downing Street

From: Paul Richards

Dear Simon,

Congratulations on your appointment as the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesperson and Director of Communications at No. 10.

You join the Government at a time when effective communications has never been more important or more needed. You’ll need to bring to bear all of your experience at NatWest, Centrica and Vodafone. As the former head of PR for the SDP in the 1980s, you’ll know a bit about political communications. Your opposite number for the Labour Party at the time was Peter Mandelson. You might well bump into him again in your new job.

You’ll understand the damage done to the political system by the revelations in the newspaper your younger brother Will edits, the Daily Telegraph. The first communications task is to get a grip on the expenses system, and introduce some clearly understood changes quick. The public expects nothing less. The principles are simple enough: no parliamentarian should personally gain from their expenses, expenses should only be paid for genuine out-of-pocket expenditure, and all receipts should be available for scrutiny. If M&S can manage it, so can HMG.

Second, we need to navigate our way through the recession. The success of the G20 was to establish global leadership. We’ve acted globally, now we need to act locally. The town centre strategy to press local shops into community use rather than board them up is a good start. A ‘national plan’ is all well and good, but what about a plan for my town and my street? Handling the economy is a Labour strength – let’s play to it.

Third, we need to demonstrate our energy through practical steps which don’t need legislation or major investment. For example, how many people know about Labour’s national defibrillator programme, which puts these life-saving devices in public places such as railway stations? We’ve saved over 100 lives since it started. So let’s put them in every public place, and get the PM to be personally associated with the scheme. The small story tells the bigger story, much more effectively than yet another long speech about the NHS. Every department should be trawled for ten low-cost, high impact initiatives which can happen in the next six months.

Fourth, let’s not confuse the ‘lobby’ with ‘the media’. You’ll be briefing the lobby twice a day. But most people are consuming their news about politics from a much broader range of sources. In every town, there’s a trusted local paper, and for the most part we ignore them; in every region, there’s a lively local radio station, and seldom a Labour voice is heard. Your new colleagues in the civil service will suggest that briefings for the big regional papers like the Liverpool Echo or the Birmingham Mail do the job. But what about struggling, smaller local papers who would love a ministerial article or interview? What about community radio stations and websites? Let’s not leave them to the Tories.

Fifth, let’s ignore, for a moment, tomorrow’s headlines, and think about how history will judge the next few months. You’ll remember the scene in episode 19 of the West Wing, when they decide to ‘Let Bartlet Be Bartlet’. Leo tells the staffers: ‘Our ground game isn’t working. We’re going to put the ball in the air. If we’re going to walk into walls, I want us running into ‘em full speed. We’re going to lose some of these battles. We might even lose the White House. But we’re not going to be threatened by issues. We’re going to put them front and centre. We’re going to raise the level of public debate in this country. And let that be our legacy.’

So let’s do less politics, and more governing.

Good luck, because you’ll need it.

Paul.

Paul Richards is a former special adviser and author of Be Your Own Spin Doctor. He was a Labour candidate in 1997 and 2001.

Comments are closed

Latest

  • Comment UN report shows we must take bold action on climate change

    UN report shows we must take bold action on climate change

    The Fifth Assessment report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) could not be clearer. Catastrophic climate change can be prevented if all countries, rich and poor, make the transition to a low carbon economy, and that this can be achieved without damaging economic growth. The IPCC has provided overwhelming and compelling scientific evidence that climate change is real, that it is caused by human activity and that it will have disastrous consequences if urgent action is […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Scotland From food banks to fair pay

    From food banks to fair pay

    We all know that politicians love to talk about ‘fairness’.  Hardly anyone will disagree that people should be paid fairly for the work they do.  But scratch beneath the surface, and there are big political differences. In today’s Britain, hundreds of thousands of people don’t earn enough to feed their families without turning to food banks.  New figures released today by the Trussell Trust show that in 2013-14, their food banks gave emergency food supplies to over 913,000 people.  This […]

    Read more →
  • News Diane Abbott publicly attacks Ed Balls

    Diane Abbott publicly attacks Ed Balls

    Former shadow health minister Diane Abbott has taken to The Guardian website to launch a fairly scathing attack on the economic direction of the Labour leadership. The famously outspoken backbencher warns that if Labour “accept the coalition cuts agenda” they will not last more than a term in office. Abbott says: “Balls has a plan. He just does not feel able to spell it out to party members. It is called embracing Tory austerity.” Interestingly, no mention is made of […]

    Read more →
  • Featured The proof that Clegg’s taxpayer-funded aide is Lib Dem election strategist

    The proof that Clegg’s taxpayer-funded aide is Lib Dem election strategist

    Yesterday LabourList reported the accusations that Nick Clegg was paying his aide, Ryan Coetzee, £110,000 of taxpayers’ money to be a Lib Dem election strategist, rather than a Government aide. Today we can show you powerpoint slides, prepared by Coetzee, that prove he is doing partisan work for the Liberal Democrats. The slides, bearing the Lib Dem logo, show polling figures for the public’s feelings about the Coalition, Clegg and whether people would consider voting Lib Dem. Damningly, one slide […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Five reasons why Labour is likely to win the next general election

    Five reasons why Labour is likely to win the next general election

    On Monday this week, YouGov President Peter Kellner wrote about the ‘fundamentals that favour Cameron’ being re-elected PM in 2015. He lists some fair points, though I’ve argued before that Mr Kellner can be a bit selective in how he presents public opinion. So let me offer you a counter-point: the fundamental factors that favour Ed Miliband and the Labour party in 2015. These are the reasons why I think Labour will emerge as the largest party after the General Election […]

    Read more →