Labour adopting 'Good cop, bad cop' PR strategy with hires of Tom Baldwin and Bob Roberts

The Labour Party is adopting 'a good cop, bad cop' approach to its comms with the appointment of two senior newspaper journalists this week, according to party strategists.

First monthly conference: Miliband addresses the media
First monthly conference: Miliband addresses the media

Labour has appointed The Times chief reporter Tom Baldwin as director of strategy and comms, and Daily Mirror political editor Bob Roberts as director of news. Both will start in the New Year.

Baldwin, a friend of Alastair Campbell, is expected to play a strategic behind-the-scenes role in Labour's comms operation, paralleling the hands-off approach of Downing Street comms director Andy Coulson. Roberts will oversee the Labour leader's day-to-day relations with the media.

'Tom is a dogged causer of problems and he will give the Tories a run for their money, which is very much what Ed wants to see,' said one strategist close to the Labour leadership. 'And Bob is a good guy, the lobby journalists will get on with him.'

Another senior Labour source put it more bluntly: 'Everyone gets on with Bob, whereas Tom ruffles a few feathers. But that's a good thing - sometimes you need a bit of muscle in politics. It will be a good cop, bad cop thing.'

The source added: 'Bob will be mainly putting out fires. The plan is that Tom will be lighting a few.'

The two appointments come almost two months after PRWeek revealed that the Labour Party's two top media operators, Roger Baker and Tom Price, were both preparing to quit the press office. In addition, Miliband's press handler Katie Myler recently left for Burson-Marsteller.

Paul Richards, a former Labour special adviser, said: 'Ed obviously recognised a big hole in his operation that needed filling and that he needed to get some big hitters around him quite quickly.'

Stuart Bruce, Wolfstar Consultancy CEO and comms director for Andy Burnham's Labour leadership bid, said: 'Ed's faced criticism for taking too long to appoint his senior team, but it's better to get it right than do it quickly. We still have almost four years until the next general election.

'It’s good that he’s looked for people that have never served in government as it brings a much needed fresh perspective and there are more than enough ex-SpADs and ministers to provide that experience.'

But Richards and Bruce were unsure whether Labour was right to rely so heavily on journalists. 'I'd question if there is a need for someone with broader, more strategic, comms experience,' said Bruce. Cameron has this with Coulson and Hilton and I think Ed might come to regret not having both."

Another Labour source said: 'It's a little bit depressing that a politician should think the solution to all their problems is to hire another journalist.'


Baldwin and Roberts: Journalists with a cause

Tom Baldwin is a former political correspondent at The Times, who served as the paper's Washington correspondent for four years before returning to London as chief reporter last year.

He is a friend of Alastair Campbell and was seen by some as Campbell's mouthpiece when Blair was in power.

A tenacious scoop-gatherer with Labour loyalties, his appointment has been largely welcomed by party insiders who are keen to see their new leader land a few blows upon David Cameron.

Labour's political rivals have been less kind about the appointment.

Tim Montgomerie, editor of the ConservativeHome website, wrote this week: 'I had two experiences of Mr Baldwin and on both occasions he wasn't interested in the truth, just attack journalism. Politics is going to get nasty with him at Ed Miliband's side.'

Bob Roberts, political editor of the Daily Mirror, is a far less divisive figure.

According to one fellow lobby journalist on a rival newspaper: 'Bob's popular and he'll be good as he understands what makes a story in different papers - he knows how Ed can get a good show in the Mail as well as the Mirror.'

Before joining the Mirror, Roberts was deputy political editor at the Press Association.


Ed's inner circle

- Stewart Wood: Ex-foreign policy adviser to Gordon Brown masterminded Ed Miliband's leadership campaign. Now shadow minister without portfolio

- Polly Billington: Ex-BBC Radio reporter oversaw the media strategy for the victorious campaign

- Lucy Powell: Ex-head of the Britain in Europe campaign group. Was a parliamentary candidate in the 2010 election. Now the leader's chief of staff

- Sadiq Khan: The shadow transport secretary played key role on the leadership campaign

- Chuka Umunna: New Streatham MP is the leader's parliamentary private secretary

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