Truss needs to listen to people, not pundits, warns Lee Cain

Boris Johnson’s former director of comms, Lee Cain, has condemned Liz Truss for taking too much notice of the Westminster ‘bubble’ and not seeking the views of the electorate.

Lee Cain (pictured), who has set up his own strategic advisory firm, Charlesbye, since leaving Downing Street in November 2020, said Prime Minister Liz Truss “surprised aides on her arrival at No. 10 Downing Street with her refusal to engage with what she branded ‘the optics’ of government – believing this was the undoing of her predecessor”.

Less than a month after she became Prime Minister, Cain said, “Tory MPs are revolting. The party has fallen a staggering 33 points behind Labour in the polls, forcing the PM and her chancellor into an embarrassing U-turn on their 45p tax rate cut.”

In an article for the Politico website, published today, he said many of the “unforced errors” that have been made “could have been avoided if the PM had understood how to talk to the audience that matters most – the electorate.”

Cain commented: “If she had cared about ‘optics’ – using public opinion research to correctly frame issues and remove potentially toxic policies – she would undoubtedly be in a much stronger position today.”

Boris Johnson

The beginning of a new Prime Minister’s tenure is a “crucial” time in which to make an impression, Cain said. Johnson’s team knew that the first 100 days would define how people viewed him as a PM. “We knew we had one opportunity to recast him as a man who both understood public concerns and was determined to deliver.”

The strategy was to ignore the views of the Westminster bubble and use “public opinion research as an important counterweight to the media’s view”.

This approach “allowed us to remain focused on our priorities, instead of regularly changing tactics to react to pundits”.

Cain said: “People told us they wanted Brexit done, and for the government to focus on their priorities – crime, education and the NHS. And that is what we did.” He added: “Boris embodied this strategy, constantly repeating the ‘get Brexit done’ mantra during visits to schools, police stations and hospitals – visuals that signalled to the public that he shared their priorities.”

Damage limitation

Truss has privately suggested that Johnson failed because he was “too obsessed with polling and focus groups”, according to Cain. “She is mistaken. Boris went wrong when his focus later shifted from the public to the pundits, his series of COVID-19 U-turns being the best example.”

The outlook for the fledgling leader is bleak, he said. "For the new PM, I fear the damage to her reputation is already so severe it is unlikely she will ever recover sufficiently to become an election-winner for the Conservatives.”

The only chance Truss has to recover some ground is if she comes up with “policy solutions that allow her to communicate that she is on the public’s side”.

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