Soap box: David Cameron's comms failures

Despite these 13 years of comms experience, the Prime Minister looks like a man who has failed to learn key comms fundamentals, says Fleishman-Hillard's Nick Williams.

Nick Williams: 'The lack of a major figure to knock sense into government comms across departments is clearly a disadvantage.'
Nick Williams: 'The lack of a major figure to knock sense into government comms across departments is clearly a disadvantage.'

Before being elected to Parliament, David Cameron spent seven years as director of corporate affairs at Carlton Television and before that, six years in various other political comms roles. 

Despite these 13 years of comms experience, the Prime Minister looks like a man who has failed to learn key comms fundamentals. This has resulted in many of the political problems he is experiencing today, including the humiliating by-election in Eastleigh.

His first failure has been the absence of a narrative beyond ‘austerity’. The key 2015 election issue will be the public’s concerns about job security and standards of living. Without a coherent narrative that addresses these concerns, the Government’s comms strategy is piecemeal, unfocused and, therefore, ineffective.

The second comms failure has been the inability of the Number 10 operation to create an effective comms model. Basic comms tools, such as the comms grid – the backbone of Tony Blair’s Downing Street operation – have been downgraded and are now ineffectual.

The lack of a major figure to knock sense into government comms across departments is clearly a major disadvantage. Attempts to deal with this by bringing in Lynton Crosby can only have limited impact given it is a part-time role.

The third failure is one of internal comms. With the media – both traditional and social – allowing his own backbenchers to be heard by wider audiences than before, Cameron struggles to ensure his own voice is heard.

At a time when his own Cabinet is using the media to communicate its own agendas, demonstrated by Philip Hammond’s attempts to protect his defence budget, Cameron’s own internal comms operation is looking non-existent.

Whether Cameron effectively deals with his failures will greatly determine the outcome of the next general election.

Nick Williams is head of public affairs at Fleishman-Hillard

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