Having spent last night watching Hackney burning on TV and listening to police sirens screaming past on the road outside, I appreciate that there are more important issues at stake than David Cameron’s PR. But, this blog is supposed to be about communications, so what the hell:
Who on earth is in charge of Tory PR? And why did they not have the PM on a plane back from Tuscany immediately after the first night of rioting in London?
“This is the thing that the media have been most childish about. Do you think that David Cameron’s going to go down there with a shield and deal with the kids in Tottenham and then run over to Hackney? We have a mechanism. This is a big sophisticated society. The police are here … we have leaders. We have a Deputy Prime Minister, a Deputy Mayor, we have all manner of people. The point is this, they are not the people who will put this problem right. This problem is in our communities and in our economy. What are our young people going to do for a job? … We have lost control of our young people and that is our responsibility not politicians’ “
But whether there’s a practical need for them to be here or not, the image projected by the absence of senior ministers is poisonous to the Tories because it suggests that either:
- they have no idea what to do and are hiding from the cameras so that they don’t reveal this to an anxious public; or
- they don’t want to get into a row – about cuts to police and youth services, or about soaring youth unemployment, or about how (if?) the clean-up will be paid for; or
- they simply don’t care – poor communities destroying themselves in unfashionable parts of London don’t matter enough to interrupt a holiday.
I think it’s the last one that’s the one that’s most damaging. Cameron, Boris, Osborne, privately educated, Bullingdon-clubbers and multi-millionaires to a man, they already look startingly out of touch with “real people”. It’s all too easy to imagine that they couldn’t care less about what happens on Mare Street.
Cameron cares about his image – that’s why he was so sensitive to criticism for not tipping a waitress that he went back to find her. But his priorities are badly wrong. He should have been here, striding purposefully about in Tottenham, talking to residents with a furrowed brow, sympathising with distraught shop-keepers and homeowners and promising that help is on its way.
Of course he’s back now, but it’s too late. In PR terms the damage is done. The mood music is clear – they don’t care, they don’t act, we’re all in this together at the mercy of the mob, they’re enjoying holidays in expensive private villas. They’re the nasty party again. Little by little the brand is being re-toxified.