Cabinet confessions: tensions between senior politicians and Government comms teams laid bare

Stifled debate, extraordinary spats and Number 10's stranglehold on comms are among the tensions between senior politicians and government comms teams exposed in a series of candid revelations by former ministers.

The relationship between ministers and Government comms teams is revealed in a series of in interviews
The relationship between ministers and Government comms teams is revealed in a series of in interviews
Number 10’s stranglehold over media relations, a departmental press team fighting to stop interviews, and a divide between ministers and the electorate, are among the anecdotes from well-known political figures.

Nicky Morgan, former education secretary, described the way in which her old department would cut Downing Street out of the loop when it came to media relations. 

Let’s just not tell Number 10.

Former education Secretary Nikki Morgan on unwillingness to involve No.10 in decision making
She said: "I think we spent a lot of time, and I understand it’s still going on, [saying] 'let’s just not tell Number 10'. I understand why, because there’s so much control from the centre. You’ve got to let government departments get on with things; if you’ve got to clear every announcement, every this, every that, then it really just slows thing down."

"You don’t want 16 government departments all announcing some big thing on the same day, that would be a complete waste of time. But there were lots of things that just took forever: 'Oh, it’s a bit controversial, we won’t do that, let’s just wait a bit’. You just think 'actually, it just needs to get out there'," she added.

Morgan is one of a number of ministers to have left government since Britain voted to leave the EU and whose interviews with the Institute for Government think tank, after leaving office, were recently released.

Another is Lord David Freud, who stepped down as minister for welfare reform last December. Communication for most ministers is "very, very hard", according to the Conservative peer.

On the openness of discussion between ministers and the public, Freud said: "I think we’ve got ourselves into a terrible position. I’m not quite sure what the solution is, but if you get attacked for using the wrong word or if you get attacked for being slightly out of kilter with another minister, then your ability to take on the issues is stifled."

The Number 10 media grid and all the rest did not favour announcements by DfID.

Sir Desmond Swayne, former minister at the Department for International Development
Sir Desmond Swayne, the former parliamentary private secretary to Prime Minister David Cameron, and a minister at the Department for International Development (DfID) until last year, commented: "The Number 10 media grid and all the rest did not favour announcements by DfID." This was because overseas aid was perceived to be unpopular with voters, he claimed.

Sir Desmond also referred to an "important campaign" - to communicate to ethnic minority and diaspora populations where Britain’s aid money was being spent - which was stopped from going ahead.

The former minister wanted to "go out on the front foot and persuade people that it was in our national interest to spend money in this way and put publicity and effort and enterprise into that."

He detailed an "extraordinary spat", when his own department attempted to stop him from agreeing to an interview request from Radio Cornwall.

"Gasps of horror! Extraordinary! The exchange of text messages, as I went off on the train, 'Please reconsider, minister' and all the rest!

Sir Desmond Swayne, former minister at the Department for International Development


"Gasps of horror! Extraordinary! The exchange of text messages, as I went off on the train, 'Please reconsider, minister' and all the rest!"

Sir Desmond added: "Anyway, I insisted on doing the Radio Cornwall programme. They were bowled over by the fact that we had bothered. And we got very positive feedback about it, for free."


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