David Cameron's Big Society plans slammed by national press

David Cameron's vision of a 'Big Society' was panned by the national press, according to research commissioned by PRWeek, with experts blaming comms blunders.

'Oomph': David Cameron launches campaign
'Oomph': David Cameron launches campaign

Pledging to create communities with 'oomph', Cameron launched his Big Society idea in Liverpool on Monday, promising a dramatic redistribution of power from 'the elite in Whitehall to the man and woman on the street'.

His speech outlined plans for a Big Society Bank that will use money in dormant bank accounts. The country's first Big Society communities in Sutton, Windsor and Maidenhead, Eden Valley in Cumbria and Liverpool were announced.

But Kantar Media Intelligence research has revealed that of the 39 pieces of coverage of the Big Society in the day following the speech, 17 (43 per cent) were negative and ten (26 per cent) were positive. The remaining 12 were neutral. The bank accounts element was largely the only part to be reported positively.

The Daily Mirror's Brian Reade dubbed the launch 'waffle doused in honey and baked to perfection'.

Meanwhile, The Times' leader suggested the fault lay in the way the Big Society had been communicated: 'This is not an empty vessel in neat wrapping. This is a serious idea obscured by a childlike name, a Kennedy speech rewritten by George Bush.'

Weber Shandwick chairman of corporate communications and public affairs Jon McLeod concurred that it was a 'big idea, with a silly name'.

Bell Pottinger Affairs MD Peter Bingle suggested problems may lie in the Big Society's initial confused launch during the Tories' election campaign: 'It was launched late in the campaign and no one understood what it was meant to be. There's now a degree of derision, but it has the potential to be a huge idea.'

Comms tactics around the Big Society are understood to be overseen by the PM's spokesman, Steve Field, with permanent secretary for government communications Matt Tee working in a 'cross-cutting role'.

The strategy is being driven by Downing Street director of strategy Steve Hilton, while an insider has suggested Andy Coulson is not 'all that bothered' about the campaign.

YouGov has revealed that before Monday's launch, one in three British adults had not heard of the Government's proposal for a Big Society.

HOW I SEE IT

- John Lehal, Managing director, Insight Public Affairs

Considering it's a celebration of diversity in communities, it's regrettable there were eight white men on the platform at the launch event. The communications had not been thought through. The Government has to be very conscious of that.

- Eben Black, Head of media, DLA Piper UK LLP

Although this appears to be a laudable attempt to engage and energise people to involve themselves in and improve their communities, it has not got through as a real message. It is also open to attack from critics of the cuts as a way of exchanging paid employees for volunteers, although that is not the point of it.

43% - Negative press coverage of Big Society launch *

26% - Positive coverage of Big Society launch *

*Source: Kantar Media Intelligence

37% - British adults who had not heard of the Big Society before its launch **

53% - Those with no or very little knowledge of the proposals **

**Source: YouGov.

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