George Eustice: The dilemma for Coulson's heir

The departure of Andy Coulson from David Cameron's inner circle has sparked speculation about who will follow. It's a tough role. Keeping a political party on message is like herding cats and when things go wrong, beating back the hyenas in the press pack is a spirit-crushing endeavour.

George Eustice
George Eustice

Before deciding whether the replacement should have a press or a broadcast background, the PM needs to weigh up two more fundamental and conflicting schools of thought. Some say the job of comms director is to manage relations with the press, stroke the egos of editors, hand out exclusive stories to keep journalists sweet and duck and dive to stay on the right side of the prevailing media narrative or muscle in on the story of the day.

The problem with placing too much emphasis on your relationship with the fourth estate is that tactics overtake strategy, swaggering editors get an inflated sense of their importance and think that the way to get scoops is to behave like children and squeal for attention. Worst of all, you end up with a lot of noise but no consistent or clear message. It's the reason why not all journalists succeed as comms heads.

The second school of thought says that the aim should be to maintain a clear and consistent message irrespective of the media weather. You should decide policy on the basis of what is right and then work out how best to communicate that policy, rather than fret about how certain policies will play in the media and adjust them accordingly. The way to stop editors acting like spoilt children is to ignore them when they squeal, give them what they need, rather than what they want and puncture their sense of self-importance by having them to dinner far less and side-stepping their endless awards ceremonies.

Of course, the answer lies between the two. Make good relations with the media your only goal and you will end up without an agenda and lose support anyway. But ignore the media weather too much and your agenda will capsize. It's not easy, but for what it's worth, I tend towards the latter school of thought.

- George Eustice is Conservative MP for Camborne and Redruth and a former press secretary to David Cameron.

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