Politicians criticised for Afghanistan war messaging as death toll rises

A senior public sector PRO has criticised politicians for failing to create a 'credible' narrative for the war in Afghanistan, as the latest military deaths hit the headlines over the weekend .

James Clark: former head of news at the MoD
James Clark: former head of news at the MoD

James Clark, who was formerly head of news at the Ministry of Defence (MoD), said: ‘The real failing is at ministerial level, where senior politicians seem to have no credible or effective narrative for this conflict. They are a victim of their own policies because the military does have one, and is believed by the public, but is rarely allowed to be the face of the message. We should be watching them telling us what they're doing, and why they believe in it, rather than listening to politicians telling us what the military thinks and feels.'
 
His comments come as the war in Afghanistan dominated the national headlines over the weekend following the deaths of six more soldiers.
 
The Daily Mail has today ran with the headline ‘This betrayal of our troops', while the Independent ran with ‘Deadly toll in Afghanistan heaps pressure on Brown'.
 
However, the Guardian has today published a new poll which finds that backing for UK involvement in Afghanistan has risen and that public support for the war is firm despite recent news.
 
Clark said: ‘The MoD has a tough job in communicating a war with no front lines, a murky and ill-defined enemy and little feeling of physical threat from the UK public. I think the fact that the MoD, and the British Foreign and Commonwealth office, have managed to sustain and even raise the level of public backing for the war in Afghanistan against this background is a major achievement in itself.'

An MoD spokesman said an increased comms team had been liaising with the press over the weekend as part of an effort to increase engagement with the media in the wake of the latest fatalities.

Clark is currently director of communications, marketing and public affairs at Oxfordshire County Council, which he joined earlier this year (PRWeek, 20 March 2009). He has also been a staff reporter, home affairs and defence correspondent variously at The Sunday Times and Daily Mail.

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