With the World Cup over for England and a heatwave gripping most of the country, our thoughts turn to a long lazy summer, and the media happily enter the silly season. PROs up and down the country will be preparing to pitch stories for the quiet months of July and August.
When I was a keen young press officer for the Engineering Union, I was always advised by more experienced colleagues to ‘invent' plenty of stories at this time of year. And, when I moved to the Labour Party, my bosses were even keener on the idea. But were they right? Indeed, I used to get orders from Alastair Campbell to this end, but (you may not be surprised) I usually threw his memo in the bin.
One year the press office came up with the barmy idea of sending a Cabinet minister to tour Britain's beaches to ‘preach the New Labour message'. Of all the people you would not want to meet when relaxing and soaking up the sun, a politician would surely be top of the list. Who can forget that summer when John Prescott, bulging out of his wetsuit, held up a crab and said it looked like Peter Mandelson? Great photocall, but how many votes did it win?
There are already signs that the Conservative Party is heading down the same path with glee, particularly after last week's by-elections and slipping ratings in the polls.
This is no doubt why David Cameron sanctioned the leaking of the Tories' policy discussions on the new task force led by Ken Clarke at the weekend.
Ostensibly tackling the tricky question of why Scottish MPs vote on English issues, it was really a clumsy attack on Gordon Brown. ‘A Scot can't be PM' is hardly a serious election-winning strategy.
I suspect that we will have plenty more ‘leaks' from the Tory task force as the summer progresses, but my advice to Cameron would be to take a very long holiday – preferably paid for himself – to recharge the batteries and come back fresh for the party conference season.
Voters are simply not interested in politics over the summer months, and a vow of silence could win more sympathy for the Tory leader. Even the workaholic Chancellor insists that August is holiday time, and you won't hear a peep out of him this summer, except when his new child is born.
‘Summer stories' are a great technique for those working outside Westminster, but spin doctors should leave the country for at least a month – to chill out.