Unite and PRCA clash over "nasty stuff" comms claims

A war of words has broken out between Unite and the PRCA over the issues raised by yesterday's Sunday Times story.

Francis Ingham: Hit out following Sunday Times story
Francis Ingham: Hit out following Sunday Times story

Earlier today, Unite categorically denied to PRWeek that its comms team had been involved in compiling "nasty stuff" comms on Labour Party members.

Both PR industry bodies, the PRCA and the CIPR, condemned the practice of malicious briefing as unethical.

PRCA director-general Francis Ingham hit out following the accusations in The Sunday Times story. He said: "This sort of grubby character assassination story is precisely what gives political PR such an appalling reputation. There is absolutely no excuse for any communications department engaging in such unethical, malicious work. It would reflect extraordinarily poorly on Unite and its employees, and we would condemn such behaviour utterly. Any PRCA member who engaged in such practices would be expelled in about five minutes flat."

Unite chief of staff Andrew Murray fired back: "It is dimwitted and malicious statements like that from the PRCA, which give PR a bad name. Despite claiming to represent in-house communications teams, the PRCA made no effort to talk with Unite’s professional staff without embarking on crude character assassination.  Despite its stated mission of raising professional standards, the PRCA abandoned the first rule of basic journalism – check. 

"Unite’s staff have never engaged in any unprofessional conduct or undermined the standards the union expects of them. Would that the PRCA could say the same - PR professionals, particularly those working for local authorities and elsewhere, which have an obligation to avoid bias, will be deeply concerned at this partisan intervention from their so-called professional body."

Meanwhile, the CIPR director of policy and communications Phil Morgan said of the newspaper report: "We don’t know whether Unite’s PR team was involved in preparing ‘nasty stuff’ about people in the Labour Party or whether anything was used. However, it is important to say that the threat of disclosure of personal or confidential information in a professional context, which is what is implied here, is unethical and against the principles set out in the CIPR Code of Conduct."

The Sunday Times piece reported that an email sent my Unite director of legal services Howard Beckett stated "comms will prepare the nasty stuff we know of individuals in the Labour party, but this will not be used".

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