Flop of the Month: Home Office chicken shop knife crime campaign leaves bad taste

It's a crying shame the hugely important Home Office campaign against knife crime has been dominated - and partly undermined - by a major PR misstep.

The decision to focus on chicken-shop customers for this iteration of #knifefree met with fierce criticism.

A Home Office press release on 14 August announced the rollout of chicken boxes featuring anti-knife-crime messages to more than 210 outlets, including those owned by Morley’s, Chicken Cottage and Dixy Chicken.

The choice of outlet led to accusations of racism from, among others, MPs David Lammy and Diane Abbott, internet star Elijah Quashie (AKA The Chicken Connoisseur), and many PR professionals. Negative media coverage ensured.

Above all, this was a failure of messaging.

The chicken-box idea originated from Morley's, which was involved in a Home Office-funded trial in March. There was little or no criticism then. The perception was of a business trying a novel idea in its own premises to help address a horrific problem in its London heartland.

But the Home Office release suggested a 'top-down' initiative from an out-of-touch elite resorting to crude racial stereotypes and using a gimmick. Its muted responses to the criticism has left the department on the back foot.

The frustrating part is #knifefree is a wide-ranging, long-running initiative featuring several elements.

Commentators may see the chicken-shop campaign as the first high-profile failure of Priti Patel as Home Secretary. Much more importantly, it risks alienating many who could help address one of the most pressing law and disorder issues of today.

Dishonourable mentions

Harry and Meghan: Branded hypocrites for using private jets to fly to the south of France and Ibiza despite speaking out on environmental issues. Photos of the royal couple and their new son boarding a private plane did them no favours.

Caroline Lucas: The Green MP's proposal of an all-female "emergency cabinet" to fight no-deal Brexit met with derision, especially as all her suggested politicians were white.

EasyJet: Accused of breaking a 'cardinal rule of social media' by asking a passenger to remove a tweeted image showing somebody sitting on a back-less seat.

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