Boris Johnson is a sitting duck without a real PR guru in No.10

The absence of a proper ‘spin doctor’ in Downing Street - following the departure of Dominic Cummings a year ago - leaves the Prime Minister vulnerable to attack from all sides.

Where is Boris Johnson's equivalent of Bernard Ingham? asks Julian Henry
Where is Boris Johnson's equivalent of Bernard Ingham? asks Julian Henry

As the Tories ponder whether to activate Article 16 of the Northern Ireland protocol and start a good old-fashioned scrap with Europe next year, they may be forgiven for thinking wistfully back to the ‘Falklands effect’ on Margaret Thatcher’s popularity in 1982.

That 74-day war saved the Thatcher premiership during her first term. She was trailing in the polls after being described as a "weak and broken leader".

It’s hard to know if a fight with Europe would save Johnson’s political career but right now the PM’s popularity is crumbling. He’s vulnerable.

British voters want sight of a new Britain now we’re out of Europe and although years of heavy bleed of Boris piffle in the papers has been enough to carry this chummy old Etonian to No.10, it was embarrassing watching him tiptoe through COP26 with nothing to say.

Think back to when Thatcher stood alongside US President Ronald Reagan on the steps of the White House in 1988. Her ‘Iron Lady’ shtick wasn’t something she was born with. It was a creation that was dreamed up by shrewd marketing brains.

Thatcher battered her way through three terms thanks to the sustained heavy artillery of grizzled No.10 press secretary Bernard Ingham and the brutal advertising muscle of Saatchi & Saatchi.

The Tory heartland loved her ability to confront troublemakers, the electorate knew what she stood for and Boris needs this hard-edged marketing, this clear sight of an enemy, right now.

Only No.10 appears strangely PR-averse.

David Cameron’s well meaning GREAT campaign attempted to smuggle brand marketing up the agenda around 2012 before it was quietly shoved off to outer reaches of the Civil Service by plain speaking Theresa May; perhaps it was the scandal of the arrest of Cameron’s director of communication Andy Coulson in 2014 that’s left a suspicion of spin doctors, clever marketing and other dark arts inside No.10.

His successor Sir Craig Oliver might have been an honest bloke but he did nothing to inspire the wider electorate in the way that, say, Peter Mandelson and Alastair Campbell’s plotting demonstrated for New Labour, as the excellent Blair & Brown BBC TV doc reminds us.

The Tories today look rudderless by comparison and this empty seat at the Tory top table is a gift for the opposition.

There are no sharp voices asking difficult questions inside No.10. With Cummings gone, Brand Boris has no Dr Evil, no marketing genius behind him pulling his strings.

His former press secretary, Allegra Stratton, is busy with other things.

Day-to-day PR for No.10 is being run efficiently by Rosie Bate-Williams and her team.

Carrie and her chums have things pretty much how they want them. No horrid bullies stamping about. Everything’s calm.

It reminds me of that ominous scene in The Godfather, where Michael arrives one night at the hospital to visit his critically ill father only to discover the security protecting Don Corleone has mysteriously evaporated. A certain sign that trouble is on its way.

Boris is a sitting duck.

Julian Henry is global head of comms at XIX Entertainment


Click here to subscribe to the new, FREE public affairs bulletin to receive dedicated public affairs news, features and comment straight to your inbox.

Make sure you register for the site to access more than one story per month.

To submit a news, comment, case study or analysis idea for the public affairs bulletin, email Ian.Griggs@haymarket.com

 

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Register
Already registered?
Sign in