The Conservative Party’s new Head of Communications, Andy Coulson, formally begins work today but he arrives prepared. He has been seen lunching with and gathering intelligence from people who will be crucial to Project Cameron’s success – Nick Robinson – and others who have occupied similar positions in recent years.
He may face an immediate firestorm associated with Iain Duncan Smith’s social justice report – its recommendations on higher beer prices and support for marriage – although veteran media firefighter, Nick Wood, is in day-to-day charge of the former Tory leader’s report.
Anyhow to add to the mountain of advice already given, here’s ConservativeHome’s memo to the new Tory communications guru:
Define your relationship with Steve Hilton. This should be your number one priority. Your £270,000 salary is a mark of your seniority. But you need your advice taken. David Cameron is incredibly reliant on Hilton. Nothing much has moved in the last eighteen months without Steve giving it the nod. Everyone defers to him. Steve is creatively brilliant. He knows a lot about marketing but has a fraction of your experience of both media and directing messages at the C2s.
‘Let Bartlet Be Bartlet’. We wrote about this last week. David Cameron always appears reasonable and moderate – which is usually good – but can we see some more passion from him? More authenticity? Otherwise everything can look a bit calculated. Portraying him as the family man and loving father that he is will be a really important task for you.
Be blunt. You were famous around the News of the World for your blunt editorial meetings and terrifying ability to sense when someone was putting forward a story that wasn’t thought through. You’ll hear plenty of such stuff at CCHQ. Two of the big and related problems within CCHQ are that (1) the creative ideas aren’t thought through and (2) the delivery machine doesn’t match/ can’t keep up with the creativity. There’s simply not enough implementation capacity. You need to be asking the tough questions.
Be the early warning system. It was your old newspaper which coined the phrase “hug-a-hoodie”. Some say the phrase came from your pen first – in exasperation after reading the speech. The Cameroons seem regularly amazed at the reception their policies get in the media. You can look at a policy, and tell instinctively how it will play. Be the regular source of uncomfortable truths. Tell them to ditch the social responsibility phrase. It’s got no traction.
Get TV support. You know the media well enough to appreciate that a newspaper man can’t wave a magic wand at the television. Someone needs to stop Cameron being photographed beside gesticulating kids or hoodie-wearing Labour activists. Hire someone. Richard Chalk would be ideal if he’s available again.
Sort out the lobby. We hear your job is to talk to commentators. The real problem is basic communication with the press gallery. As you know, day-to-day political coverage will be decided by the political reporters, so make sure they’re well served and give David Cameron playing cards with all their faces on and personal profiles. He doesn’t know enough of them properly.
Ration your calls to editors. Every editor will take a call from you but not if you are on the phone every day. Convince Murdoch that Cameron is better than Brown. More small government. More Eurosceptic. And resistant to further BBC empire-building. Murdoch’s people don’t think much of the Tory leader. Can you begin to sort that?
Champion the “strivers”. The Tories stand for people who want to do better for themselves – the folk who once supported Thatcher and switched to Blair. Yet CCHQ has very few strivers – former XR3i drivers like you. Too many of the CCHQers are careerists that could really be in any of the main parties. Their message is excruciatingly metropolitan and goes over the heads of C1s and C2s who decide British elections (and buy your old newspaper). You know what the strivers want: You were one yourself.
Know Brown, and his tactics. Brown’s team is small. Study Brown… how he works… and learn to outsmart him.
Use patriotism. Brown’s draping himself in the robes of Britannia. These are our Tory clothes as we suspect you know. Get the flag back! Alongside David Cameron’s green we’d like a bit more red, white and blue.
In closing: we’re glad you got this far. There’s been plenty in the last six weeks that would make a guy of your calibre rethink his decision to join the Tories. Your joining was a real sign that Cameron is being taken seriously. This, in itself, helps our party.
And a final thought for you: There’s a reason centre-right parties are sweeping to power across Europe. The days of big government are over. This really is the Conservative century. You joined the right half of the political spectrum. the centre right is now solving the social challenges that defeated the left. You may even be the difference between victory and defeat. And most of all: Good luck!