Opinion: No news is bad news for No.10

Two weeks ago, Harriet Harman was minding the shop at 10 Downing Street while Gordon Brown was on holiday in Southwold.

Not only did she demand additional media briefings and enhanced access for her special advisers, but she also ensured a stream of news emanated from Number 10.

Last week everything changed and I would defy any reasonably aware person to know who was running the country in the PM's absence. I checked and it was Jack Straw. This week we are all safe because Alistair Darling is at the helm. Yet for four days last week there was no news from Downing Street.

This is an unforgivable failure of media strategy. It has gifted a political news vacuum, which the Conservatives have filled without hesitation. Michael Gove has attracted coverage lambasting lads' mags, Iain Duncan Smith and Ed Vaizey have earned column inches attacking the BBFC ratings of The Dark Knight and the Tories have received advanced coverage of their party conference plans.

At the heart of the Tory comms machine is former News of the World editor Andy Coulson and David Cameron; himself a former PRO. They are operating the same pioneering media management grid that Alastair Campbell used throughout Tony Blair's premiership.

In practice, the Number 10 media grid is still operating, yet it seems to have forgotten what it should be doing. Departmental briefings ensure it is aware of what is going on - but the team under Blair was using this information to identify and plug news vacuums.

Last summer, between terrorists and environmental crises, the Government maintained the news agenda by default, leading to a collapse in the coverage of Tory politicians and rumblings of dissatisfaction with Cameron's leadership. This year the tables have turned and the Tories have been gifted a summer of free news.

It is sad to say that Southwold Town Council has taken better advantage of the holiday season opportunities than the PM's own press team.

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