OPINION: Liability Letwin is a fool to speak his mind

If you want a PR lesson in how not to launch your tax and spend policies for the next general election, Oliver Letwin has given it. To understand just how bad the Tories were in announcing their most important policy you have to look back and see how New Labour and Gordon Brown did it back in 1997.

The Tory plans looked as if they had hardly been given a moment's thought, whereas years of preparation went into the announcement that Labour would stick to the Tory spending policies for the first two years. These announcements came as a surprise, and therefore had a much bigger impact. The new economic policy made front page news for three days. Compare that with Letwin's bungling efforts.

Michael Howard first told us there would be no leaks or spin on the Letwin announcement. Does he think we are stupid? It is only with leaks and spin that you get maximum favourable publicity.

The Tories first leak was to The Times last week and what a disaster that was. Apart from infuriating the Telegraph, the story that the Tories were going to spend more on health than Labour was not the message they needed to get out. Tax cuts are undoubtedly Letwin's end game, but the 'spin' to The Times had gone badly wrong. The shadow chancellor was forced on to the Today programme a week early and gave one of his most embarrassingly awful performances ever, largely because he said nothing.

The announcement would inevitably have to be spun better for the Sunday papers, but all the Tories managed were a 'basement' story in the Sunday Telegraph and a page six in the Observer. The most important Sunday paper, the Mail, got nothing.

Normally, an appearance on Frost would get the morning headlines needed, but even here Letwin failed to deliver. Why he refused to come on programmes such as Radio 5 Live is a mystery. With no opposition spokesman, Labour was given a free hit and they used it to great effect. The Letwin no-show allowed Labour to set the terms of the debate.

The result was that not one morning paper had Letwin's plans for the economy on the front page; he even had to share his Today programme slot with Brown's little helper, Douglas Alexander. The fact that Labour didn't put up any of its Treasury team but its election strategy chief instead shows how confident it is of winning the battle of the economy. Cutting the money spent on public services from 42 per cent of GDP to 40 per cent is hardly an election-winning slogan.

I've no doubt that the Tories will return to the tax-cutting agenda at a later date, but Howard would be better off doing it himself. Letwin is a complete liability, as he proved at the last election. The problem is he too often says what he thinks, and for a politician that's bad news.

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