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Andy Coulson tipped for top Tory comms role

I await with much interest for this afternoon’s announcement about Andy Coulson, former editor of the News of the World, being appointed the Director of Communications for the Conservative Party, whispers which were disclosed on Iain’s blog.

If true, there will naturally be associations made between him and spin doctoring which the public – and hopefully Tories too – are keen to distance themselves from following the Alistair Campbell/Blair era.

We need to establish trust during a time when there is considerable mistrust of politicians and apathy among voters. I would like to know what Coulson’s credentials are for this role, how he can win over public confidence when he is used to working on sleazy stories. The last thing we want to be known as is a tabloid Tory party.

Coulson was the paper’s editor when its royal correspondent Clive Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire were jailed earlier this year in a phone-hacking scandal involving Prince William and other celebrities. Coulson escaped unscathed, apparently unaware of these devious activities, but resigned the day the two men were sentenced.

Interestingly, the appointment already has the seal of approval from Matthew d’Ancona, editor of the Spectator magazine, who describes it as a “coup”, saying:

“That’s a real coup for them because Andy’s a very good journalist and highly respected.

“It follows a great deal of speculation that the Conservative party was looking for an Alastair Campbell-type figure.

“As the debate over grammar schools has shown, and also the failed attempt to get Greg Dyke as a candidate for mayor of London, the closer that you get to power and the more that you have pressure applied to you, the more important it is that you have a big figure in charge of communications.”

Despite my reservations, David Cameron is obviously very media savvy and will have thought this through thoroughly.  If this decision turns out to be a disaster, the repercussions will be considerable, it could cost us the next election. I think we are in for some very interesting times …..


20 Comments

  1. Please excuse the intervention of someone not born in the UK. But I did work as a sort of spin doctor for a Canadian cabinet minister almost 20 years ago.

    I find the connection between the media and politics to be remarkably complicated in this country. Can you tell me if Andy C had been editor of the Daily Mail would this discussion be taking place? (I suspect it would be very different… but with how much reason?)

    And I also think the media and politicians are very self censoring about what we call spin, when business, academia… even the church… have all turned to it more and more in the past decades.

  2. Here is a quote from BBC political correspondent Nick Assinder following this week’s Newsnight featuring the deputy Labour leader contenders:

    “The words trust, honesty, transparency and openness are being bandied about in a way that seems to suggest they are somehow novel concepts, and certainly that they are areas where the past regime has fallen short.”

  3. Neville, I think Cameron has already taken quite a lead with the social media, and I think there will be much more to come, I would like to see interactive forums on policy issues. Even Tony Blair has said in The Economist this week that he believes that the future of politics should include internet interaction. It is just a matter of time now.

    Thanks for the John Redwood recommendation. I have visited his site a few times, but have added it to my blogroll and Google reader (new to me in the last week).

  4. By the way, Ellie, one blogger you should add to your Conservatives blogroll is John Redwood. He’s my MP. I don’t agree with much he writes about but it’s authentic, passionate and very consistent.

    http://www.johnredwoodsdiary.com/

  5. > I can’t foresee a political party of any colour not indulging in a bit of spin, unfortunately.

    Couldn’t agree more, Jim. This shouldn’t be a revelation to anyone.

    Will voters believe there’s any substance behind any Conservative spin, that’s my question. Same question for Labour and the others.

    Precious little belief anywhere from what I can see.

    I’d like to see more of Cameron’s experiments with social media. As with Miliband and his blog. Bypass the spin and talk directly.

  6. There is little difference between Blair’s New Labour and Thatcher’s neo-conservatism:

    Quasar in the Blair period state managed expenditure as a proportion of GDP has risen from 38% to 45% collected mostly in the form of invidious stealth taxes. We have a Public Sector swollen and useless an a prize Marrow and inner cities where paid employment is a fading memory. The people voting for Blair are the low paid , the anti English and those in tax funded employment. Those who detest him, are those in the private sector hence the gross asymmetry geographically.
    Your casabounish tendencies may have blinded you to the gross facts but everyone else can see the difference.

  7. The handling of the Grammar school issue has been dreadful and escalated a relatively subtle difference of emphasis into a grandstand fight with immediate consequences at the Polls. We need better Press handling and I think New Labour were very good at it , Campbell was , of course , a journalist himself and he was effective by writing the story for the Papers . I don’t object to that explaining and presenting is perfectly valid. It was when the spin began to dictate the legislative agenda that it all went wrong and when presentation strayed into misrepresentation
    The job that urgently needs to be done is to explain Cameron`s position to the Party and core vote better so as to give him a freer hand to attack the centre constituency. I believe many more concessions to the left will be needed to gain a working majority and as it stand this simply will not be possible. Cameron musty do a better job of integrating gesture ( living with an Asian family) into his Policy plans.

    I see this role as Janus like one explaining to the faithful and belligerently controlling the media by any means possible. A certain amount of needs justifying enmds will have to stomached

    BTW Ellee , did you notice Mr Dale being rather unkind about your Lost children theme on 18 Doughty Street.

  8. I agree with you in principle, however I can’t foresee a political party of any colour not indulging in a bit of spin, unfortunately.

  9. Thank you David, you are absolutely right, spot on. If you do a cultural web of the Tory party it will be much more inclined to the Telegraph reader rather than the tabloids, I imagine. Let’s hope there are some good strategists to take all these considerations on board.

  10. Elle,

    I think everyone would want to have a transparent approach if they could. I’m just not sure that in politics today, in the media environment (let alone new media) we have today, any party, let alone one that has ambitions to govern, can be transparent all the time. The media have agendas at least as often as the politicians they cover and good news management (rather than distortion . . .I know you know the difference) is essential. i tend to think that someone who has come from a tabloid will have a good chance of getting that right. the biggest danger in my view of an ex journalist going straight into this type of role is the temptation to fight every battle rather than focus on the war as a whole. You should hope that Cameron has some good strategists in there too.

  11. “Despite my reservations, David Cameron is obviously very media savvy and will have thought this through thoroughly. If this decision turns out to be a disaster, the repercussions will be considerable, it could cost us the next election. I think we are in for some very interesting times …..”

    All publicity is good publicity
    But not all news is good news.

    There is little difference between Blair’s New Labour and Thatcher’s neo-conservatism:
    1) Sell off Council Homes. Nationwide more people now RENT from private Housing Associations than from the Council
    2) Privatise Health Care. We now not only have privatised dental practices and dental charges, but privatised GPs (practices) and privatised Foundation Trust Hospitals – and more health care charges. Treatment & regunds if you can pay UP FRONT. What happened to the NHS? free at the point of delivery
    3) University fees & Tuition fees

    Can Tories be the new ‘greens’ with their love affair with jaguar & 4x4s, and their love affair with cheap flights to Tuscany, Greece and New York?

    Can Tories be the new ‘greens’ with their love affair with ‘new’ & ‘wider’ motorways, and more ‘runways’ at Stansted?

    Of course a few Tories would still like to preserve the idyllic village life & country life, or the holiday home in Wales, and the retirement home far from the City after they are done with the rat race.

    It’s a matter of wanting to have one’s cake and eat it. But not everyone gets a ‘slice’ – as the cake gets bigger, those who have just want more, – leaving Oliver Twist to beg “please Sir, can I have some more”

  12. Discussed this appointment on Radio 5 last night with ex editor of the Mirror:-

    http://www.toryradio.com/jcms/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=667&Itemid=45

    A good appointment – I just want his salary now!

  13. I think he’ll be good at it and a match for Campbell. Whatever you think of the latter, he was great at his job!

  14. Let us wait and see how he does. I fear politics dragged further into the gutter though and more ‘stories’ and less policies.

  15. The former editor of the NOTW is an interesting choice for this position!

  16. David, I am sure the Tories were/are not saints. The point I was trying to make is that the tide is turning and politicians need to have a more transparent approach. As I said, David Cameron is a very skilled media man, I am sure he has thought this through thoroughly and it could well be a very inspired choice, but the appointment will be questioned because Coulson has a tabloid background, like Campbell. I am naturally hoping it will be a very successful move.

  17. Elle you talk as if the Tory party is some kind of virgin territory for news management. Remember Bernard Ingham? Your party’s problem wasn’t the lack of people to do this job, it’s just that they were not very good at it. You should be glad that the party has got in what look like a pro.

    And before anyone says that dear old Bernard was different to Alastair in any meaningful way, here’s how Wikipedia describe him:

    Although a career civil servant as opposed to a political appointee like his successor-but-three Alastair Campbell, Ingham gained a reputation for being a highly effective propagandist for the Thatcherite cause (despite his earlier political affiliation). The phrase spin doctor did not really enter common parlance until after his retirement and the rise of New Labour, but he was nevertheless a gifted exponent in what came to be known as the “black arts” of spin. In those days, Downing Street briefings were “off the record,” meaning that information given out by Ingham could be attributed only to “senior government sources.” Occasionally he used this deniability to brief against the Government’s own ministers, such as when he described the Leader of the House of Commons John Biffen as a “semi-detached” member of the Government. Sure enough, Biffen was dropped at the next reshuffle.

  18. Hmn, interesting development. As you say, let’s wait and see..

  19. Newmania, I want to be positive about this and not have a knee-jerk reaction because the NoW is a sleaze rag. I want to give Coulson a chance. Let’s wait and see what time will prove.

  20. I don`t know if the recommendation of Mathew D`Anconna is much to shout about the Spectator is a dire rag nowadays thanks to him. His wife works for Tony Bliar you know.

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