Government comms – cock-up or conspiracy?

I’m amused that people are claiming to see dirty tricks afoot in the government’s climb down on the forestry sell-off.  There was a round of applause when it was suggested on last night’s Question Time that the whole thing was a set-up to present the government in a caring and listening light and to deflect attention from more nefarious goings on in health and education.

Having worked in Whitehall, I’m always amazed that people think government is efficient enough to put a conspiracy together.  Given the choice between something being down to cock-up or conspiracy I would bet the mortgage on it being a cock-up every time.  Government is too big, leaky, dumb and chaotic to manage the nimble footwork, discipline and cunning required to manage a conspiracy,   it certainly couldn’t raise the wherewithal to do it over this.  The simplest explanation is the best – they messed it up, didn’t listen to anyone before they announced the policy, hadn’t thought through the politics of it and were astonished at the response.  Another one to chalk up to my growing list of examples of how bad government comms is at the moment.

Perhaps David Cameron’s past life as a PR came to his aid when he killed the policy.  Standard advice  in crisis comms  is to act swiftly and decisively, accept blame where it’s due, put counter-measures in place fast and apologise sincerely.  All of which they more or less achieved.  I do wonder about the longer term damage to the Tories’ corporate reputation, though.  Ed Miliband has already made the point that cuts are reviving memories of Thatcher and “re-contaminating” the Tory brand.   At least the Thatcher governments maintained a reputation for being steadfast in the face of opposition. How many more U-turns driven by poor policy planning  can this lot afford before their public image is of malign but incompetent toffs blundering through things they don’t understand?

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One response to “Government comms – cock-up or conspiracy?

  1. The fascinating thing is that if you look at the detail, Margaret Thatcher was more politically sensitive and light-footed than most. She wanted to go on and on and on, and, for most of her time in power, remembered that she wouldn’t get re-elected unless what she did was popular. Once she had established the reputation of the conviction politicians who didn’t turn, she was able to dodge, weave and backtrack with impunity.

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