Cameron wins praise for 'decisive' PR skills

Top PR professionals this week lined up to praise David Cameron's communications skills as damaging details of Tory expense claims emerged.

Cameron: 'Completely appalled'
Cameron: 'Completely appalled'

Public affairs agencies bosses from both sides of the political fence were united in praise for Cameron’s PR tactics after he held a hastily-convened Westminster press conference.
Cameron said he was ‘completely appalled’ by the expense claims of some Tory MPs, adding that the worst offenders would be forced to repay money or lose the Conservative whip.
Bell Pottinger’s Peter Bingle said: ‘This was Cameron's biggest test yet and he passed with flying colours. He turned a potentially disastrous situation into an opportunity to show real political leadership. Never forget that David learned his communication skills working for Michael Green at Carlton. He is making the Number 10 operation look like amateurs.’
Hanover Communications MD Charles Lewington said: ‘Cameron was the first to recognize that it was unacceptable for politicians to go on blaming the system and his pre-emptive apology on Sunday was so much more authentic than the Prime Minister’s two days later. I detected the hand of [comms director] Andy Coulson in Cameron’s demand that MPs pay the cash back. Quick thinking - in difficult times.’
Lexington Communications boss Mike Craven said: ‘An opposition leader has more freedom of manoeuvre on an issue like this than a Prime Minister but, that said, Cameron has handled a tricky problem well. He was decisive, taking control of a potentially damaging story. His behaviour and demeanour reminded me very much of Blair circa 1996 – he behaves like someone hungry for power.’
APCO’s Darren Murphy said: ‘David Cameron reacted quickly on Sunday evening pre-empting the first allegations with a direct, unforced apology on TV. He didn’t try to hide behind the system but acknowledged how damaging to the Conservatives and to politics these claims are. He tried to limit the damage to a small number rather than to all his MPs by demanding publicly those accused explain themselves for the claims they submitted and admit mistakes they made.’
Murphy added: ‘Crucially, Cameron put himself on the side of the taxpayer, expressing his anger on TV at the behaviour of his own side – an anger clearly shared by the public. And he took action quickly, calling a press conference to tell the public they are right to be angry and he expects his own MPs to pay back money wrongly claimed.  No-one will emerge smelling of roses from this episode but Cameron hasn’t emerged covered in manure - which one of his colleagues apparently claimed for.’
TLG director Malcolm Gooderham said: ‘Whatever Cameron says and does he needs to stay focused on his primary audience: floating voters, not fellow Tories. And his primary message: change. His party must credibly represent a new type of politics. Against these two litmust tests Cameron has delivered. And in showing genuine leadership he enabled his PR team to set and influence the media agenda and generate positive comment. Now he and his team have to deliver and live the new Tory brand, or face a mighty voter and media backlash.’
The praise for Cameron’s response to expenses row was in contrast to much of the reaction to the Prime Minister’s handling of the issue.
On Monday, Gordon Brown issued a Prime Ministerial apology for the public outrage over MP's expenses - but his intervention came as the Conservative Party found itself in the firing line on this issue for the first time. Expense claims made by Tory frontbenchers dominate the front page of Monday’s Daily Telegraph, with shadow children's secretary Michael Gove and shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley among those under pressure.

A source close to Downing Street admitted: ‘Gordon has made himself a one-man news sponge, soaking all the attention away from the Tories.'

Gooderham said: ‘Gordon Brown as ever demonstrated his unerring ability to misjudge the moment and mood. Were Cameron ever to lose his way he only needs to look at how Gordon Brown is attempting to manage a situation and do the opposite.’

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