FRONT PAGE: Tories' Coulson plans summer media blitz

Tory Party communications director Andy Coulson is to spearhead a 'summer assault' on the media, as long-serving strategy chief Steve Hilton prepares to take more of a back-seat role.

Coulson: 'influence will grow'
Coulson: 'influence will grow'

Tory insiders said that leader David Cameron would increasingly be relying on Coulson, following this week's news that Hilton is relocating to the US.

This summer, Coulson will assert his control over the party by enforcing a strict ‘grid' system that will ensure stories are regularly fed to the media and that telegenic Tories are constantly available to be interviewed.

The grid system will see the party taking a much more disciplined approach to ­media management than was the case last year, when Cameron was hit by a wave of negative coverage surrounding issues such as floods and grammar schools.

A Tory insider said: ‘Vac­uums lead to problems, as we discovered last summer, so there will be no holiday this summer. There will be a summer assault. There will be a grid in place. It will be strategically planned so the right people are around at the right time.'

The source added: ‘We are planning to fill up the grid on a daily basis, so when Cameron and [shadow chancellor George] Osborne are not around, you'll see some of the smaller hitters out, such as Peter Ainsworth and Eric Pickles.'

The Conservatives have insisted that Hilton will still remain in his post as director of strategy after relocating to the US, despite being 6,000 miles away from his leader. He is expected to return to London after six months.

But public affairs agency bosses said Coulson would become more powerful.

Weber Shandwick public affairs chairman Jon McLeod said: ‘Coulson's inf­luence will grow. We can now expect a new phase of process that is more focused on the daily cut and thrust of opposition politics while preparing for government.'

Open Road CEO Graham McMillan said: ‘Coulson will privately be pleased that Hilton will be forced to take more of a back-seat role.

'They are a powerful combination but they have conflicted when media issues have sometimes clashed with the long-term strategy of repositioning the Tory party that Hilton has championed. This will mean more power to Coulson's elbow.'

But Gavin Megaw, head of corporate communications and issues management at Fleishman-Hillard, said that Hilton would be more useful to Cameron 'out of the Westminster bubble, and all the short term political and media distractions that brings.'

He added: 'This move will ensure that the party is not distracted from the real issues that the country faces. Ironically, it will be much easier for Steve to capture the real mood of the country and translate it into the party's long term plans from outside the Westminster bubble, away from all the short term politicking and media distractions.'

Gordon Brown's team at Number Ten is understood to be keeping a close eye on developments amid mounting concern about the effectiveness of some of the techniques employed by Coulson.

PRWeek previously reported that Brown is said to be 'obsessed' with Coulson, who is credited with branding the PM a 'ditherer.'

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