Presentational failure of Cameron’s photographers

Still on the This Week theme, I was disappointed that Michael Portillo’s viewed the revelation that David Cameron had hired two personal photographers as a bad sign.

There’s divided opinion on this, more against than for the hirings:

For me, it’s a  failure of presentation by David Cameron and his No 10 press team. Where were the arguments presented for the hirings. None. I can see plenty; being on hand at important moments when the media photographers aren’t around, to capture the intimate moments of the PM and conversations with world leaders, to record life at No 10 for posterity, to present professional images of No 10 to the world, to provide the images as part of a communication strategy with the electorate. Geez, I could go on.

I agree with Collen Graffy, who’s surprised that there wasn’t an existing unit in No 10. There must be trust between photographer and the photographed, which is something that was obviously built up while he employed the two when in opposition. I’m not too fussed about his choice.

What I am fussed about is the failure of No 10′s press and PR team to see the pitfalls in such appointments, without presenting the justifying strategic reasons for them. Others, such as Martin Ivens in The Times, and Tim Montgomerie have commented on the need for a Chief of Staff at No 10. Coalition government presents more presentational challenges than one party government, so a coordinating hand is vital. Public goodwill is a finite resource, and shouldn’t be expended carelessly, as has been the case with Cameron’s photographers.

Cameron’s PM Direct success

I’m sure you’ll have seen on TV news David Cameron at one of his PM Direct events around the country. I don’t think this has had the praise that it deserves. It’s surely a positive and welcome improvement in access to the Prime Minister that the public can ask the Prime Minister tough questions, face to face.

The pundocracy, and naturally opposition politicians, are quick to point out any mis-speakings by Cameron. It would be interesting to hear what the general public thinks. I imagine that they’ll generally be forgiving for small mistakes, in exchange for the openness  of the Prime Minister to challenge by ordinary members of the public.

Since becoming Prime Minister, Cameron has held five of these PM Direct town hall-style meetings that I’ve counted, Brighton & Hove, Luton, Birmingham, Manchester, and Newquay. I think that’s pretty good going.

Review of BBC’s ‘Five days that changed Britain’

Remarkable, the BBC’s political editor Nick Robinson’s ability to assemble a large cast for his Five Days That Changed Britain TV programme of how the Conservative & Lib Dem coalition government was formed.

Nick provides interesting detail on the making of the programme in A leap in the dark, and Tim Montgomerie has some useful notes on who said what.

Full of cameo interviews from most of the key players in the drama, that is all except one notable absentee, Gordon Brown. Nothing new there I imagine you conclude. What a missed opportunity for Gordon to be reflective and statesmanlike.

My star of the show was William Hague, all smiles, insight, and openness. What a change from the earnestness of David Miliband as Foreign Secretary. Hague’s lovely imaginings of what Gordon Brown, in No 10, was thinking, while the coalition discussions were taking place just yards away in the Cabinet Office.

From watching the interviews it’s easy to conclude that Labour’s players were all about grievance, while Conservatives and Lib Dems were about opportunity. Openness – that’s what Labour’s players seemed to lack; Ed Balls all indignant grievance; and from Lord Mandleson such carefully chosen words, but never quite enough to expose the truth.  

The Liberal Democrats – Clegg, Laws, Ashdown, and Hughes, all impressive. Ming Campbell less so, showing a sense of loss of what might have been.

How interesting that the Civil Service, and especially its head Sir Gus O’Donnell, had prepared for a coalition outcome, and urged on the discussions. Fed up, probably, of Gordon Brown’s indecision.

Finally, about Cameron. I think he’s showing the essential difference between Tories and all other parties, and that is while Conservatives have values and principles, the key difference is intelligent pragmatism. For a lifelong political people-watcher like me, this programme was fun. Nick Robinson, ignore all your critics, well done.

PS: Caught a bit of the Newsnight discussion on the programme, in which Ed Miliband offered the now normal Labour denial of the need for change. And he’s second favourite for the Labour leadership. Hmmm – Labour, you’ll have to find better than a Miliband to lead you.

More on promoting trade thru our embassies

As an update to my earlier post on promoting overseas trade thru our embassies, wiser heads than mine have also commented on this new role for our embassies. Two such are:

I’m sure that David Blackburn’s account of opinion in the Foreign Office is more accurate. Heck, they’ve got William Hague as Foreign Secretary and not a Miliband, which must boost their morale.

It wouldn’t have escaped those in the Foreign Office that they now have a central role in delivering our future prosperity. Influence and intelligent observation is what diplomats can deliver. Being respected for that, and being relied on for it must surely be what the FO wants.

Trade rightly centre stage once again

The wealth generated by our Victorian forefathers came from trade. I’ll not bother with dissecting guilt from exploitation from our Empirical actions, just to say it wasn’t all bad, as the legacy of the railways in India can attest.

It’s therefore a real pleasure to me that the Cameron government are focusing on international trade to help create the wealth that’ll help rid us of the horrible debts of the previous Labour government. In a recent article - A staunch and self-confident ally - for the Wall Street Journal on his recent trip to the US, David Cameron ended it with this:

“promoting trade will be a huge priority for my government. It’s the real stimulus our economies need, and Britain is open for business—especially to the U.S., where our close ties already deliver jobs and prosperity for both our peoples.”

Also pleasing is to learn that our overseas diplomatic embassies and missions are being re-focused on creating trading relations as their prime responsibility.

Petition response from No10 on extra funding for Surrey

In my email in tray this morning is a response from Government to the on-line petition I signed earlier this year, for the Prime Minister “to urgently review funding levels for local government in Surrey.”

I’m pleased to receive the response, but not surprised that it hasn’t had much effect, as this part of the response shows:

“This means that generally an authority with a high need to spend on services, for example due to deprivation, and a low ability to raise funds locally, i.e. council tax, will receive more formula grant than an authority with a low need to spend and high ability to raise funds locally.”

One positive to take out of the response is the committment to devolve power to local authorities. The only pity is that is doesn’t come with any more money. Here’s what they say about this committment:

“”We will promote the radical devolution of power and greater financial autonomy to local government and community groups. This will include a review of local government finance. “

PMQ’s analysis: Cameron in command

Out for most of the day and World Cup footie in the evening, so have caught up with PMQ’s through BBC Democracy Live [Also available HERE].

Two things to note about this PMQ’s. One to discuss its content, but the other about the Speaker’s view of its purpose. I’ll address the second point in a separate blog post.

I imagine there are many still adjusting to the new look of PMQ’s, what with the LibDems and the Tories in coalition, and still no leader of the Labour Party, PMQ’s is very different. The one person who seems to have adapted most quickly is David Cameron. He seems made for the role of Prime Minister. As Sky News’ Joey Jones comments in his excellent PMQ’s analysis, David Cameron showed a “remarkable command of statistics without notes”.

Interestingly, three of the most media-savvy new Labour MP’s managed to get called to ask a question by the Speaker, Gloria del Piero, Rushanara Ali, and Chuka Umunna. I’m sure we’ll be hearing more from these three MP’s in the future. I hope so because, as I’ve noted previously, the Labour party sorely needs new faces.

As to the overall result, I’m still of the opinion that marks out of 10 for performance isn’t quite appropriate, maybe later perhaps. However, my overall view is that David Cameron is the most commanding presence in the chamber, and that Harriet Harman would be more effective if she’d decided to enter the race for Labour leadership. It would have given her more edge to the exchanges with the Prime Minister.

Slight wobbles on our Afghanistan policy are OK

Apologies for slow blogging, have been involved in some enjoyable deputy mayoral events. Even though I’ve missed a few days blogging, there are some flies buzzing round my head that I must get rid of by putting pen to paper, as it were.

Afghanistan. I’ll bet you as troubled by our Armed Forces being there as I am. Last year I was a touch wimpish on the subject but was toughened up by listening to General Sir Mike Jackson.

The reasons we’re there, as I see it, are to counter the threats of international terrorist, to see the job through to the end, and not to devalue the sacrifice to date of our Armed Forces. We’re not there for nation building, but to neutralise terrorism so that Afghans can forge a new nation, after the many years of war.

This is not a war where you can say we’ve won. It’s a complex situation. It involves sensitive relations with Pakistan, and the Muslim world.

Therefore, it’s understandable that members of a new government, which is afterall a coalition, would have slightly differing views on the progress and timetable of our role in Afghanistan. I’m surprised at the level of criticism being directed at the coalition for their wobbles on Afghanistan policy, notably around the timetable for our withdrawal.

We’ve ditched Tony Blair’s ‘gung ho’ attitude that so overstretched our Armed Forces, and that’s got to be good. We’ve replaced it with a desire to see an end our involvement. Surely this is a healthy attitude, to say otherwise is not what the majority of the country wants. Differences in nuance from the Defence Secretary, the Foreign Secretary, and even Prime Minister are to be expected, and indicate a thoughtful approach to the problem, which will continue to trouble us all, especially when the conflict costs the lives of our brave soldiers.

I wish I’d Iain Martin’s writing skills

Some of the issues contained in my recent posts have been: the lack of any credible Labour politician to argue their case in the much changed political world; the importance of William Hague’s recasting of UK foreign and diplomatic policies; that our salvation, economically, will come from being an outward-looking mercantile nation once again; and finally, that the inbuilt leftist liberal intelligentsia running the BBC and Channel 4, is struggling to adjust to a new political dynamic.

I wished I’d both the time and the writing skills to flesh out these issues. One man, who’s always on my political wavelength is Iain Martin, deputy editor of the Wall Street Journal Europe. Today he has in two blog posts wonderfully captured the importance of these issues. They are:

“The introduction to “Newsnight” on Wednesday was a classic of its kind: portentous, statist in its underlying assumptions and slyly contemptuous of the ability of the private sector’s ability to create wealth and employment.”

“Having declined to make the full-throated case for several years that private-sector wealth creation will power the recovery and it will be crowded out if the state stays too large, Cameron now finds that it is not widely enough understood in the media or the country.”

  • Labour needs lessons in opposition – where he both notes the intelligent shifts in UK foreign policy from William Hague, and Labour’s complete failure to understand these shifts, saying,

“How did Labour respond to all this? Former Foreign Secretary David Miliband said that William Hague needs to start behaving like a foreign secretary. This is silly. In the Locarno room at the FCO, Mr. Hague had just made a serious speech about Britain’s place in the world. That counts as behaving like a foreign secretary.”

Now if I was years younger, I’d be writing to Mr Martin and asking for an internship under his tutelage. Oh, and I got a little buzz of pleasure, to find that I’d used the word statist in my blog post on not wanting to hear from Gordon Brown, and that Iain used it in his piece on Cameron’s not arguing his case.

Now, waiting for Mark Urban’s analysis of William Hague’s speech on Newsnight, which I hope is the top story.

Thoughts before the England and Germany match

BBC Radio 4 has little gems of programmes. On Wednesday evening I listened to “Home Thoughts from Abroad” in the car on the way home from a meeting – repeated on iPlayer until June 30th. Here’s the BBC’s description of the programme,

“John F Jungclaussen, commentator for “Die Zeit” magazine, explains what Britain can learn from German politics and vice versa. In the last of an “ideas swap” series, Mr Jungclaussen argues that Britain is an increasingly authoritarian society, compared to laid-back Germany. He also explains what the Germans could learn from the British tradition of celebrating Guy Fawkes night.”

Jungclaussen lives in the UK and is clearly an anglophile. Describing his admiration of our ability to debate, and to use our language to its fullest ability, unlike in Germany. Although he bemoaned our increased acceptance of authoritarian government, describing one difference between the two nations on adherence to a common law banning smoking in pubs and bars. Surprisingly the anti-smoking law is widely flouted in Germany, but never in the UK. His argument was that Britain retains the wrong image of German people.

Of course, now we are playing Germany yet again in the World Cup, British tabloid newspapers revert to stereotypical portrayal of the two nations. Some Germans are not amused, to be expected I suppose.

It’s in this atmosphere that David Cameron has proposed watching the football match on TV with German chancellor Angela Merkel. What a natural diplomat is David Cameron. I hope this is what happens. Such a simple gesture, but an indication of friendship and common cause. Nick Robinson has blogged about this Crunch Match, and how Cameron is different to Gordon Brown, thank goodness.