George Eustice: Stay on front foot during silly season

The so-called silly season has begun. While there is no shortage of earnest news from around the world, whether the famine in Africa or the threats hanging over the US economy, for both political journalists and the press officers who have to mark them, the month of August is always a challenge. After all, the devil finds work for idle hands.

George Eustice: Stay on front foot during silly season
George Eustice: Stay on front foot during silly season

On one level, August is a great opportunity to get coverage for worthy news that would otherwise be lost. Just last weekend, the Treasury select committee stole the headlines for its research highlighting that HMRC was not very efficient at responding to letters.

August is also a good time for oppositions to get on the front foot, but only if their research departments have done the ground work during July. There needs to be an intensive operation to put down written Parliamentary questions to draw out facts and figures from Government that can then be turned into ammunition. So far, there are few signs of life coming from Labour HQ on this front. The summer recess can sometimes work for governments too. Those who had been contemporaries of David Cameron in the Conservative Research Department still feel nostalgic about the Conservatives' 'Summer Heat on Labour' campaign that took apart Neil Kinnock's emerging 1992 manifesto. He never recovered from it.

But the silly season is mainly a frustration for governments as they struggle to fend off trumped up stories. Ministers trying to enjoy a short break will find themselves metaphorically dragged home by their BlackBerrys. Last weekend saw a raft of articles about the wiring of government and alleged tensions with a particular focus on Steve Hilton. The reality is that the core team around any PM will have forthright debate but sharing the same trenches causes them to become so close that plotting in the way the papers describe happens far less than people imagine.

It's hard to sustain traction for any one political story in August so most news will become tomorrow's chip paper, but left unattended, problems can really catch fire.

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

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