OPINION: 'McA-levels' shows No 10 spin still works

This week the Government's spin machine showed that good old-fashioned PR techniques still work.

Charlie Whelan
Charlie Whelan

The Number 10 'Sunday for Monday' story on burger chain McDonald's being given the go-ahead to offer A-levels led all the news bulletins in the morning and got widespread newspaper coverage too. 'McA-levels' was one of many headlines in almost universal positive coverage.

There will no doubt be some snobs ready to attack the Government for cuddling up to what is seen by many as the lowest form of fast-food chain and linking it to quality education. Significantly though, the Tories kept quiet - and it is easy to see why.

They know that in the polls they are well ahead in the AB social group, who would rather vote socialist than be seen in a McDonald's outlet. They are, though, neck and neck in the C2 skilled manual workers group, and absolutely nowhere in Labour's heartlands.

Attacking the Government's new skills policy, and by implication the popular food chain, would not go down well there. The Government scored a big hit, but it was an even bigger PR coup for McDonald's. The company is often attacked for serving up crap food, so being linked to a top higher education exam couldn't be better for its image.

The whole saga shows clearly why the Government, despite recent setbacks, still has the upper hand. Gordon Brown and his team can put forward policy proposals that can and will be implemented.

It was significant that the Cabinet minister behind the McDonald's scam was new work and pensions secretary James Purnell. Last week we were discussing how much he enjoyed the arts, media and sports job, which even gave him time to play golf.

No golf for him now. Peter Hain may have been lost, but how much fresher and younger does the Cabinet look now? Not just Purnell, but Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper promoted too. Who knows, by the time of the election we may even have our first female Chancellor of the Exchequer - and that would exert a huge pull on the women's vote.

Another advantage for the Government is that it can continue to 'steal' the Tories' best policies. The shadow chancellor was praised for his proposals on inheritance tax and chancellor Alastair Darling was derided for copying him.

But who is going to implement the new regime? When you inherit a million quid tax-free, it is Darling you will praise, not George Osborne.

No one story is ever a turning point, but 'McA-levels' brought the smile back to Downing Street faces - even more so with the revelations about the Derek Conway scandal.

Email: charlie.whelan@haymarket.com

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