Monday, 24 January 2011


The Downing Street Communications Director, Andy Coulson, has chosen to join the dole queues of his own volition.  This has led to much ruminating on who the relpacement should be based on their individual perspectives of what the problems with the Conservative message are (and its close relative, the Government message).

David Davis has thrown the cat amongst the pigeons by playing the class card - arguing Coulson was the only working class voice in the backroom and not something Hilton can provide.  However, the analogy for the respective skills of Hilton and Coulson were probably best characterised by a comparison Nigel Farage once made about himself and Dan Hannan:

“Dan can talk to broadsheets, I can talk to tabloids”.

Steve Hilton can do the broadsheets and Couslon the tabloids.  However, this difference in skill sets/perspectives was reflected in an unresolved tension within the Conservative message.  Creative tension is a good thing provided it is not seen in public.

To often the message seemed to pull in different directions with the result an electorate seeking change were offered a confused message.  This was an unresloved argument.  The one element the team could agree on was that Labour was terrible so this became too predominant in Conservative messages. The Liberal Democrats stepped into this unfilled gap in the market through the leadership debates (further throwing the Tory message off course with it having to spend time and money trying to scare voters about a hung parliament.)

However, it was not Coulson and Hilton's job to resolve the tensions (althought they needed to ensure it never became self-destructive).  It was Cameron's.  It is a risk for anyone with recognisable ability and skills that they spread them too thinly.  They dabble across a broad spectrum rather than prioritise, focus and deliver. Whether this has been Cameron's approach before he became leader I don't know but it has often been his manner since then (locally his attitude to UCUNF looked to me like a dabbling rather than committing).  The broader weakness of the Shadow Cabinet around Cameron would have encouraged this type of behaviour - lead person on range of subjects while now he has to cope with the distraction of governance (something the DUP took time to adapt to in organisational and message terms).  He never resolved the tensions and the narrative suffered.

So the replacement of Coulson is not as central as some seem to think because the weak link in strategic messaging remains, David Cameron.

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