Number 10 reviews press expertise after wave of negative coverage

Downing Street is formulating plans to bolster its print news expertise after a week of being slammed by the press, according to well-connected Conservative sources.

Panic: a scene mirrored across the UK as drivers queue for petrol (Getty Images)
Panic: a scene mirrored across the UK as drivers queue for petrol (Getty Images)

Although no formal recruitment process is believed to have commenced, it is understood that those in David Cameron's inner circle are aware that former BBC man Craig Oliver is not a like-for-like replacement for previous director of comms Andy Coulson, and are actively considering refreshing the team with new blood.

A party insider told PRWeek: 'There's a wholesale review taking place. The idea that keeps coming back is that the Government needs someone who knows print, combining Oliver's visual skills with someone who has print skills to get the narrative right and to get to the commentariat.'

Last week, the Tories were hammered in the media over minister for the Cabinet Office Francis Maude's disastrous comms around petrol strikes, the 'Pastygate' issue, Peter Cruddas' cash-for-access sting by The Sunday Times and, most recently, digital surveillance, which have enabled Labour to take strident media lines.

PRWeek understands discussions have taken place within Downing Street about the perception that Cameron has lost the 'common touch'.

One source noted that 'Oliver is under a lot of pressure', but pointed out that Cameron does not like 'endlessly reshuffling his team'.

Daily Mail columnist Andrew Pierce suggested to PRWeek that Coulson 'would have seen the bear traps over pasties', while The Times' executive editor Roger Alton said that Downing Street's rumoured plan to 'suck petrol out of the refineries and on to the forecourts' had 'spectacularly backfired'.

Cicero director and chief corporate counsel Iain Anderson told PRWeek that he expected the Easter recess to provide an opportunity for Cameron's team to 'step back and review and refresh the whole comms approach'.

However, one Tory insider with links to a prominent Cabinet minister painted a more negative picture of the Tories' current comms situation: 'They're in meltdown. No-one has been in control since Coulson left. They realise they have a massive problem but they have no idea how to address it.'

Another Tory source suggested Cameron was unlikely to cut ties with trusted comms lieutenants and would keep Hilton 'on speed dial' during his sabbatical in the US.

 

Timeline

2 April More attacks on the Government over plans to snoop on phone records and emails.

29 March The 20 per cent VAT levy on hot pies gains more headlines, labelled a 'pasty tax'. The PM gaffes over where he had eaten his last pasty, an outlet that turned out to have been closed five years before.

28 March Francis Maude causes petrol panic by telling people to fill jerrycans.

25 March The Sunday Times accuses Peter Cruddas of offering access to the Prime Minister for hundreds of thousands of pounds.

21 March The Budget is announced. The next day's headlines focus on the so-called 'granny tax'.

 

In numbers

42% Labour's approval rating in YouGov/Sunday Times poll on 1 April

33% The Conservatives' approval rating on 1 April

-26% David Cameron's personal popularity rating on 1 April

86% of those polled said the Government had handled the petrol issue badly

Source: YouGov/The Sunday Times


Government reels under negative media coverage

The Tories have been characterised as 'out of touch' and failing to communicate their 'all in this together' messaging to the masses by the week's commentariat.

The lines taken by the newspapers have almost entirely been negative in their assessment of the Tories'

handling of the issues plaguing them, with The Guardian's Jonathan Freedland writing last Saturday that 'Downing Street strategists accept' that 'even their own supporters believe the Tories will always look after the well-off'.

'The task now, they concede, is to insist that the party will also protect the interests of the hard-working "strivers",' wrote Freedland. 'But even that smaller ambition is hard to achieve when Maude is talking about "kitchen suppers" and George Osborne is cutting the taxes of the richest.'

Independent political editor Andrew Grice pointed out that the Cruddas incident 'echoed Labour's favourite attack line of "out of touch Tories" looking after their rich friends'.

Only the Daily Mail's Monday leader offered a glimmer of support for Cameron, stating that 'at this time of acute public distrust of all politicians, the Mail still likes to believe in the PM's integrity'. But it suggested that he needs to declare all his meetings with Tory donors in order to move on.

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