Public affairs experts split on PM's handling of latest expenses revelations

An agency boss has slammed Gordon Brown's handling of the expenses scandal this week, but other comms professionals argued that Brown is not to blame for the latest expenses headlines.

Criticism: Gordon Brown

MPs have being reacting to the news today that some of them will have to repay their expenses following an enquiry led by Sir Thomas Legg.

Mandate chief executive Sacha Deshmukh said: ‘It is really clear that one of the things that we are seeing is the disintegration of Gordon Brown's ability to lead.'

He added: ‘Brown took a firm line and said that MPs should pay back the money and he intended to send this clear instruction to the party. But his lack of authority and lack of communication with the public has seen his communications strategy fall apart.'

The majority of the national newspapers have today led with the news that Brown has been ordered to repay over £12,000 of expenses. The Daily Telegraph ran with the headline ‘£12,500 payback time for Brown', while The Independent picked out all three party leaders and used the heading ‘They're all in it together'.

However, Open Road chief executive Graham McMillan said: ‘Brown has done perfectly fine this week and has urged everybody to pay up. It is early days. These latest developments lack the explosive nature of the original Daily Telegraph revelations. Everyone is sick to death of the issue now.'

Jon McLeod, Weber Shandwick chairman of corporate communications and public affairs also had sympathy for Brown. He said: ‘For all Gordon Brown's good work in showing leadership as Prime Minister through this, his messaging has been severely disrupted by other events. It is not his fault. It has been a build-up and consequence of the issue of expenses being allowed to fester.'

He added: ‘Brown needs to project the fact that it is the purpose of the Government to provide maximum support for restoring confidence.'

Insight Public Affairs account director Amanda Stuart also noted: ‘Brown should concentrate on policy and not pass any further comment, and advise his MPs to do the same. All the parties have set our their responses to the scandal, so providing further comment now is not going to change the current landscape and will only give the media further ammunition.

UPDATE: Burson-Marsteller's public affairs chief is the latest lobbyist to give his verdict on Brown's performance. Head of public affairs George Hutchinson said: 'Gordon's reaction on Monday was the right one but also probably the only one he could come out with. The challenge is what happens next. For a large number of Labour MPs the future looks bleak and paying back money that was ‘properly' given under the House of Commons rules at that time will more than stick in the throat for many.' 

He added: 'David Cameron's MPs are more likely to be receptive and toe the line given that they look to be heading for an election victory and a postive future. The real test of leadership for Gordon Brown will be how to maintain a united front amongst his own backbenchers on a problem that was not orginally of his own making, but through his actions, in the minds of many he now owns.'


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