Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Telegraph coverage of Student protests over tuition fees

The Telegraph 's coverage of today's latest student and Union protests was a multimedia masterclass.

Although the paper's politics clearly clash with that of the protest movement, the Telegraph reports and website team managed to produce a fairly balanced and innovative live blog featuring video, live images and Twitter reaction from across the political spectrum.

In terms of accessibility, comment and links to social media platforms I'd put the coverage ahead of the Guardian's, which came across static in comparison.

This seems to be borne out by the Tweet ratio to the pages: 207 to the Guardian's 17.

A good lesson in creating a live news blog that evolves with the story, even without any dramatic twists to report on.

Monday, 24 October 2011

EU referendum vote will merely alienate voters

Tonight's debate and vote in the Commons on holding an EU referendum was terrific fun, showing the first big rebellion of David Cameron's  leadership and causing Government aides to resign.

That is of course, however, if you belong to the chattering classes and enjoy the Commons as an intellectual Albert Square. Which makes me wonder who George Osborne would be - Ian Beale? - but I digress.

Most normal voters, the type belonging to families looking for work after unemployment figures reached a 17 year high, simply do not care about this parliamentary posturing over an issue which while always controversial, isn't a priority for them.

I don't need stats to back this up, it is something I hear listening to communities around Britain and from speaking to friends and relatives more distant to Westminster. I tweeted as such before and received lots of comments from people I don't know, passionate in their condemnation of the political arrogance of those daring to indulge in a five hour cock fight while the country collapses around them.

I completely take the point that the Eurozone crisis is the next big economic threat but as Britain isn't part of the Euro, acting all little Britain now just paints both sides of the debate as arrogant, no wonder the French are hacked off.

It's about time the Commons was as busy for a five hour debate on utility prices, jobs, inflation or something that really matters to everyday voters.

Otherwise politicians are simply spitting in the wind and wondering why they are wet in the polls.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Unions strike action in November

Unions have called for a day of action on 30 November in what will be a winter of discontent for David Cameron. Or Nick Clegg. No, in fact, David Milliband.

With UK economic growth stalling the coalition and opposition are caught in a balancing act where a lack of certainty over the path to growth means that being perceived to fail to negotiate with the Unions will lead to damaged credibility to David Cameron; yet bending to them will also cause a negative reaction with private sector voters who have also seen pensions and pay cut.

I'm more interested, however, in Ed Milliband's approach. He has already reiterated at TUC Conference that he is doesn't favour action but his leadership of his party may not survive another 'these strikes are wrong' moment.

If Ed does become red then he forgoes the 'squeezed middle' ground he has tried and failed to woo thus far.

Expect to see fiery rhetoric from Ed Balls and co to try and push the Coalition to a solution with the Unions which will spare Labour this no-win no-fee decision.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Guardian data shows Twitter didn't cause riots

Following on from my recent post, the Guardian has produced a rather useful interactive graph illustrating data of Tweets relating to the riots.

It is no surprise that early indications are that most Tweets were reactive and not pre-planning the next move of the rioters.

Hopefully this will inform Theresa May ahead of her meeting with key social networks and help prevent headline grabbing but ill thought out plans to shut down social networks during times of 'civil unrest'.

Monday, 8 August 2011

London riots caused by social media

Social media has caused the London riots. That's the implicit message in a much of the coverage on day three of the London riots.

This isn't true. Social media is merely a medium for trouble, a vehicle for organised chaos.The modern day pamphlets of the French revolution.

Yet the use of Blackbery Messenger in the London riots does show that technology is once again putting rioters and the lawless minority one step ahead of the Police and even the Prime Minister who is now cutting short his holiday but because of the speed and relentless nature of the London riots, this looks like a leader showing a distinct lack of leadership.

Social media hasn't caused the London riots, it has shown that the current system of law and order and summer political organisation is no longer working.

The Met would be well advised to appoint a new Chief Constable who realises this before it is too late.

David Cameron would likewise benefit from not misjudging the mood of a country in crisis and briefing stories such as how he returned to tip an Italian waitress when his country's capital is in meltdown. That, is bad PR advice.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

George Osborne's Murdoch links exposed

Big news today that we're supposed to be shocked about the relationship between the Chancellor and News International.

This is, of course, nonsense. Under the communications direction of Alastair Campbell Labour went as far as the other side of the world to woo the proprietor and his family and just as with the MPs' expenses scandal it is just a case of who is sitting at the chair when the music stops and the hacking scandal was exposed.

What is more of interest is how the sharks are circling and jostling for influence, sensing a weakened News International grasp over the political classes.This has resulted in a more hostile 'right wing' press putting pressure on the Government, undoubtedly jockeying to replace the fallen king Rupert.

The Mail has steadily ramped up its anti-Government output in the past few weeks since the hacking story exploded. Today, the Chancellor felt its razor sharp bite and this is on the back of the 'where is the PM?' rhetoric of last week before PMQs and the statement to the House.

The Telegraph too has been quick to out pressure on the PM over the hacking scandal and BSkyB bid and this has meant that the Prime Minister has seen friends disappear faster than Rebekah Brooks in front of a select committee.

Of course, you can argue that Paul Dacre has been the quiet Kingmaker all along. Gordon Brown certainly thought so but with the Daily Mirror now launching its own hacking investigation the chances of the Mail being undisputed after twelve rounds grow stronger by the day.

But a day is a long time with this hacking story.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

The Sunday Sun

The News of the World has closed and The Sunday Sun will replace it.

That's the prediction of Ken Clarke today and the feeling on Twitter at the moment.

So where does that leave the News of the World staff?

Many, as acknowledged by James Murdoch, had nothing to do with the old regime and are victims by association. For them, failure to re-house them would be a legally difficult issue and his statement seems to insinuate a re-branding will allow them to get on with their jobs without the stain of the News of the World hacking scandal.

I don't think, however, that this is going to be enough for campaigners. They will want blood i.e. someone to go down for this.

If that man is linked to the Government, then all of a sudden this will cast massive pressure on the Prime Minister.

Whatever happens, I hope that the honest staff at the News of the World are looked after. It would be hypocritical for a PR, a profession so happy to woo newspapers when it can, to say otherwise.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Interview with NUJ rep about the campaign to save local newspapers

Tomorrow sees the launch of the NUJ campaign to save local newspapers. It's starting in Enfield, where the 'Enfield nine' group of journalists recently went on strike over the quality of their newspapers.

This is an issue right at the heart of democracy in this country with most of the local and regional newspapers in the UK facing continued cost cutting measures or even closure.

To get a front line perspective on the key issues I spoke to the NUJ union rep at North London & Herts Newspapers (where the interviewee works as a Features Editor) about why the campaign is important, how social media has changed the media landscape and the relationship between PR and the media...

1) The North London and Herts strike seems to be more than about jobs. You refer to accountability and this fits in very much with the idea of Britain's media as the pluralistic fourth estate. What long term damage to local democracy will the death of local newspapers have? 

It's a sad fact but over the past few years one in four journalists on local newspapers have lost their jobs. As a consequence councils, courts and public bodies are no longer being properly scrutinised as reporters do not have time to leave their desks and are unable to cover a number of important stories and report them to the public. We have the figures that 64% of editors believe they are not adequately scrutinising local councils and 80% of judges believe courts are not subject to adequate scrutiny. If reporters are not sitting through inquests or badgering local bobbies, or holding those in authority to account or running campaigns we're missing a fundamental cog in our local democracy.

2) The (remaining) staff at the group seem under huge pressure but many of us won't understand to what extent. Just how tight have deadlines been and do you really just have two reporters producing all those editions? 

Yes. It's a crazy situation. We currently have two reporters and one news editor to cover nine editions of our paper. To give you some example of how much worse off we are now we used to have seven reporters and two news editors covering the same patch. So we have lost two thirds of the newsdesk. This means that from 9am to 5.30pm on most days the reporters are tied to their desks churning out a great mass of copy to fill these nine editions. Obviously, they don't have time to go out and meet contacts and hunt down original stories because they have a certain amount of pages to fill by a certain time of the week (Actually we have two deadlines because we have so many papers: 4pm on Tuesday and 4pm on Wednesday. The moment these are reached they start on filling the next week's papers. It's more and more becoming like a factory). They might also have a council meeting or a residents' association meeting or an event to attend in the evening so a lot of the time they take work home with them at weekends which is, frankly, unaccceptable.

3) Why do you feel more hasn't been done by the national media to support you? The Guardian and Indy have regularly covered the topic, but do you think it is editorial policy or apathy from the rest? 

Yes, we have been surprised by how little has been written about us in the national newspapers in relation to our recent strike and battle for quality papers. The trade press has been good but, bar the odd blog from the likes of Roy Greenslade in The Guardian, there doesn't seem to have been much put out there in the nationals. Why is this? I don't think it's apathy so much but perhaps other newspaper owners are wary of printing stories about strikes or the death of local newspapers in fear of unrest and unease spreading to their publications. That was certainly the case with our opposition papers who took a strong editorial line on not printing anything about our dispute. Interestingly, radio has been very responsive with items on local and regional channels while Jeremy Vine devoted a half hour segment to the death of local papers on his BBC 2 Radio show recently.

4) Has social media helped or hindered local journalism? 

I think social media can only be a good thing and local newspapers should adapt and embrace the new technology. In many respects it has helped as people tweet, blog, Facebook etc the moment they see an article they like and help spread the word. The problem is that most newspaper owners have been very slow to embrace social media and are still very suspicious of it so we are playing a big catch-up game. But they can certainly co-exist and help each other.

5) Do you think there is still room for local print media in the age of 'hyper local' websites and blogs? 

You can't beat mulling over a newspaper in a cafe or at home with a nice cup of tea. In terms of local print media there's a whole bunch of local information about what's happening in your community that isn't on the web. You can get national stuff online but rarely the kind of information about church fayres, court cases, about the opening times of your local dentist, or a review of a local play which you just can't get on the internet. Or, if you ever do track it down on the web, this information is scattered all over the place and it's not the same as having it all in one simple format of a proper newspaper. Also, it has to be said, these 'hyper-local' websites and blogs are often run by people who are not trained as journalists, who often miss essential facts or get things plain wrong which is very serious from a legal point of view. I would certainly trust my local paper over any of these numerous blogs.

6) How can local blogs and websites be accountable and is the danger that they can be partisan influencers? 

As trained journalists we take every care to remain neutral and non-partisan. If we show any bias then it undermines our relationship with our reader. You have to wonder about the bias of many of these blogs which are often an excuse for the writer to let rip with his very personal feelings about any number of issues. I am not saying I am anti-blog - I have my favourites - but the reader should take what they say with a large pinch of salt. In terms of accountability this is a pretty unregulated area and the only way to judge their trustworthiness is reading them over a period of time and making a decision for yourself based on the facts.

7) Who suffers most from a declining local press?   

The community. A lot of the time the local press is the only one to stick up for the man and the woman on the street. A weakened local press is symptomatic of a weak society. If you have a robust press then you have a passionate defender of those who might not normally have a voice. There is a reason why the first thing dictators do is to close down any independent press. Words have power.

8) I work in public relations. In your experience does the practice of media relations offer local media valuable opportunities or does it hinder journalism? 

In my experience good relations between press and PR can only help the journalist. Part of my job is a reviewer and I have to be careful about getting too close to PRs for obivous reasons as this might impact on my review but there is nothing wrong with maintaining a friendly relationship. In my experience I find the PR is much more forthcoming - sometimes leading to other stories or a different angle on that particular story - if we strike up a decent relationship. We can help each other.

9) Some local politicians have said that local media only wants to hear bad news and is therefore skewed. This is one justifications for council-run publications. What is your response to this? 

That argument is incredibly lazy and boorish. We report on the news and, unfortunately, the majority of that may be "bad". But if "bad" means writing about a hit and run and putting an appeal out to find the perpetrator then that surely is a good thing. If that means offering a fitting tribute to the young girl killed in the hit and run which might make her parents proud then that might be a positive. Council run publications are generally stuffed full of council propaganda - you will never find one of those rags criticising the council! - and I like to think readers are mature enough to know the difference and desire a publication that looks at the good and the bad without any political bias.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Mail Online overtakes BBC

So, it's finally happened! The Mail online has finally smashed the monthly traffic record for a UK website and has overtaken BBC online.

The Mail has been gunning for the Beeb for many years but this is a moment for anyone interested in online communications to sit back and applaud the strategy.

In reaching for an international audience, as pointed out by Asda's Dom Burch in a CIPR North West summer social event yesterday, the Mail has become the gossip and celebrity site of choice for web users on both sides of the Atlantic.

The publication clearly aims for a wider audience than its sister print channel and in PR circles, it is becoming widely seen as the place to launch a consumer or celebrity story; especially as many newspapers and news sites now unashamedly take the Mail online's content as their own.

While the Mail isn't a popular newspaper among the left, this web achievement is certainly something paying dividends for them and Mr Murdoch will no doubt be looking to address this soon.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Facebook makes another PR Fail

My wife is an interesting and talented woman, yet she has no time for marketing. She likes what she likes, she goes by her own instincts. So when, three weeks ago, I came in to see her deleting many of her Facebook albums, I was curious why this was?

Her response? "I don't trust it (Facebook), you don't know who is looking at them."

So it was with great interest that I digested the latest PR fail from Facebook which has seen the company on the defensive today over the use of facial recognition to tag photos, a feature they launched in the US last year but have now introduced globally.

I don't have a problem with big brands, I imagine working in PR would be a challenge otherwise. So for that reason I don't buy in to the 'Facebook bashing' which seems to be the preoccupation of many bloggers; yet the issue for Facebook is that there have been so many of these slip-ups that it's now a mainstream issue - my wife wouldn't be worried about it if it wasn't.

To put it another way, Facebook is becoming famous for having a poor privacy policy. If you put 'Facebook privacy' in to a news reader you will get between 450-700 recent articles from across the globe. That's a statistic which doesn't need to be analysed.

Privacy becomes even more important when one considers the growth of content curation (read @JamesCrawford at his blog for more on this) and the growth of the cloud consumer.

As discussed in this interesting Marketing Week article, the growth of social channels is being driven by cloud consumers who, typically, create 90 pieces of content a week on Facebook.

Now this content is why every brand is flocking to Facebook, they want this content to link to, endorse and interact with their brands. So the more data Facebook gives them, the more accurate this spend can be.

But here's the rub. For every brand page, Facebook still grew on the bread and butter of people sharing very personal information with their friends in a way never done before. My wife is, effectively, a cloud consumer in the rawest sense. She uses the technology and channels to live her life and take part in online communities, she uses it to keep friends and family up to date with the progress of our children. Clearly, however, Facebook's reputation has altered enough for this cloud to turn a shade of grey and the negative media coverage has affected her behaviour.

A personal example, yes, but not a one-off. It's an issue Facebook's reputation managers need to address as it reaches the heart of debate over privacy versus marketing and there's nothing to say that if the cloud consumers don't like what they here that they couldn't float away elsewhere.

Because behind every cloud is a competitor with some silver lining.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Ken Clarke defends rape comments

Ken Clarke was either brave or foolish to go on Question Time tonight. As it is, it was probably a wise move thanks to the shocking introduction of grown up debate from Jack Straw and Shami Chakrabarti amongst others.

Mr Clarke undoubtedly made a mistake but the feeding frenzy was sensationalist and the arguments deserved a better quality of debate. That would have done justice to the millions of victims and their families who deserve not only justice but an intelligent argument about how to improve the law, especially the often horrific trial process which I have read about.

That doesn't mean cutting sentences is right, that's not my point, the fact is that it's a serious issue and the news coverage was sensationalist, personality politics not befitting the severity of the topic.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Why the collective responsibility of ministers needs refreshing in a coalition

When I was a young whippersnapper, my favourite lesson of the week was politics. Mr Wood was the teacher, a portly chap with a touch of that famous chef detective. I digress, anyhow, he used to ensure all the boys and girls memorised parliamentary conventions and quotes, it was a truly throwback way of teaching but it did wonders for one's grasp of democracy.

Events this week have led me to delve the Commons' Library in search of developments on my favourite such convention, that of ministerial collective responsibility. It's a fascinating read and important to keep front of mind as the coalition cabinet looks to a new age of more diverse and challenging decision making.

The coalition looked to address this early on with 'agreements to differ' within its coalition agreement yet many policies, such as NHS reforms, were not included in this. So either the proposals by the health secretary were originally passed through cabinet and it was only negative stakeholder reaction which influenced the changes; or the Lib Dems kept their counsel because of the convention.

Either way, Nick Clegg needs to test the convention as as much as possible, starting with NHS reforms if he is to repair the damage inflicted on his party in the 'midterms' - although backtracking in the wake of election defeat is not the most sincere way of achieving this.

I think the convention needs redefining beyond the 'agreement to differ' convention in a modern, coalition government. For voters deserve the right to know the balance between Lib Dem/Conservative in to decision making, as the smokescreen of collective responsibility is simply leading to claim and counter-claim.

Granted, this is somewhat of a minor issue to most people, yet I can't help but wonder if modernising the convention for this unique time we live in would improve the quality of coalition cabinet decisions and transparency for voters.

N.B. I tried to find something else on the topic and stumbled across this opinion piece from Lib Dem voice. There wasn't much else out there but the sentiments expressed are similar.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

AV campaigns falling on deaf ears

I have every admiration for some of the excellent reports on the AV referendum debate, such as the Guardian's but it's quite clear that this referendum isn't going to turn out well.

You can't blame Prince William and Kate Middleton for getting married but I'm sure 'yes' campaigners would appreciate it if they had decided not to. It's just one of a plethora of news stories smashing the AV debate out of mainstream news.

I don't mean it's not getting coverage, course it is. Yet today I read every tabloid and broadsheet and did some social media listening. All the debate is being generated through the core group of journalists, commentators, creatives and geeks who usually get excited about Westminster.

The man on the street is gearing up for Bank Holidays, the Royal Wedding, the FA Cup and so forth.

Now I realise this is always the case in politics yet this debate should be so much more. It should be more than a vote on AV, the miserable little compromise, it should have momentum, generate real debate outside of the political elite.

Alas, it is not. It hasn't captured the public's imagination and even the image of Nick Clegg weeping to Simply Red isn't going to salvage enough sympathy for the public to come out on his ticket, so he is left in the shadows.

It's therefore down to the wonderful couple that never was, 'Ed and Vince', to parade around and rally the 'yes' campaign - rally in the Tim Henman sense, over before it has started.

So what will this debate teach us about the future of British politics? Nothing, I guess. I'll estimate turnout at around 40% and first past the post will remain. This will be pretty rotten considering the protests, cuts and age of revolution we live in.

But that's the problem with this referendum. It's evolution when the people demand more. Or at least they would, if they were listening.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Ed Milliband's address to forget

#March26 will live long in the memory for many reasons - but Ed Milliband may well wish otherwise.

The Labour leader must have known he was taking a huge risk addressing a TUC rally that would see the largest protest in the capital since the anti-war movement of 2003.

What did Ed have to gain from it? Many in the crowd will have been sceptical of his role in the economic crisis anyhow and it wasn't as if he was marching, he wasn't.

His gamble backfired on live TV when anarchists picked that very moment to launch a series of violent attacks - meaning Sky News and the BBC both carries his words over images of violent outbreaks:

That was a mistake, and an avoidable; yet perhaps he didn't have a choice - the younger Milliband famously owes the Unions his leadership victory over his brother, David (

If the Unions did force his hand then they can't be blamed for the speech itself which questionably linked the anti-cuts protest with the suffragettes and anti-apartheid movements. Unsurprisingly, this has caused consternation even in the left-leaning press:

It caps off a poor week for Mr Milliband who has to handle the juxtaposition of a party poll lead and poor personal approval ratings.

I have previously said that 'Red Ed' needs a cause to make his own but until he has clearly made the case for the 'alternative' he speaks so passionately about, he will struggle to reach those voters beyond the Unions and leave himself open to allegations of hypocrisy.

David Cameron started his early years as leader riding huskies and hugging trees - how Ed Milliband must wish he had the time to dip his toe in such less contentious waters.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Budget 2011 predictions

The Sundays are full of 'predictions' and ''source' based info on this week's budget. Why on earth they just don't say 'The Treasury tells us' is another thing! A miss the good old days when Ministerial announcements weren't leaked in advance; although when those days were is another thing...

James Quinn in the Sunday Telegraph focuses on how George Osborne will attempt to convince big business to stay in Britain, whilst sending a message to the public that these same organisations must pay their way

This is the Catch 22 budget, Osborne is arguably damned if he does and damned if he doesn't. Either way, his 'enterprise' policies to promote growth in Britain and to send the army of enterprise (some of the metaphors being briefed are truly cringe-worthy) in to battle, need to hit the mark. The public will not tolerate spin over substance this time, any gloss will melt away rather quickly under scrutiny.

Can the Conservative Chancellor succeed in delivering a budget that pleases Joe Public, The City, small businesses and his Cabinet colleagues?

Of course not. It's who he chooses to prioritise which will define this budget.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Matt Baker asks Prime Minister David Cameron "how do you sleep at night?"

This is worth a watch - did he or didn't he mean it?!

The reaction of the co-presenter seems to indicate Matt Baker's question was unscripted, which suddenly makes the One Show interesting!

I think Matt knew exactly what he was saying.

A rare moment of controversy from the Beeb's  early evening snooze-fest.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

'Churnalism' website must not be used as an attack dog on PR industry

Flat Earth News (Nick Davies) was a monumental game changer in the debate as to how the 24/7 new media culture has had a damaging impact on the quality of journalism.

In the book, Davies is scathing about the 'copy and paste' techniques used by certain publications upon receipt of a press release. Now, the Media Standards Trust has launched the website to help people check press releases against articles and see how much of this has simply been copied and disseminated around the world.

The website itself has the potential to have a positive impact on journalism if it encourages fact checking and real journalism in place of copying and pasting. It could also, however, be detrimental for several reasons.

Firstly, if an article becomes infamous for its appearance on the site, then a journalist could feasibly receive real damage to their career; yet we have no background as to why the decision to publish the press release in full took place. It could have been a line manager's decision. The reality is also that commercial pressures require spaces to be filled and if the release is 'non commercial' and of genuine interest, then large parts of it could be of legitimate use.

At this point I must point out that although I work in public relations, I value relationship building and acting as a door to a source for journalists, I have no interest in 'forcing' copy on to a page or not recognising the value of an independent and pluralistic media - I even defended the media in my MA dissertation after John Lloyd's What the Media is Doing to Our Politics book.

I think it will also be a shame if the site is used as an attack dog against PR per se. Public relations is about managing reputations. It is every organisation's right to manage their reputation and the practice has been going on since the dawn of society. Yes, from time to time, methods can be criticsed but so can journalists'

So, simply using content from a press release isn't a crime. There might be legitimate insights via statistics, quotes or facts. A journalist can write around this and use counter arguments if needed, but there could be a large number of words used in a release and an article; without the article being compromised.

So, certainly puts the cat amongst the pigeons but whether or not it is here to say, who knows. It also strikes very much as a 'PR stunt' by the Media Standards Trust, does it not?

And there's the irony, simply defining something as 'PR' is in many ways an anachronistic exercise and one would be better served to understand the way reputation managers work with the media in today's climate.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

The face of the Big Society

In answer to my previous post, we now have a face for the Big Society and classic case studies from north and south but the question remains - will voters care about these groups? If so then they could become Cameron's super-advocates. I am still sceptical about the first batch, however, and bet No.10 is still desperately seeking that 'golden ticket' example of the Big Society which it craves.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

How big can the Big Society be?

There's been lots of noise this week on the perceived crisis of the 'Big Society' programme.

Labour Councillors are refusing to play ball after public sector cuts, none more so than in Liverpool - an eerie reminder of the problem Tory-led Governments face when Labour are in power on Merseyside:

As a concept, the Big Society doesn't resonate easy with ordinary voters - this is illustrated by a recent poll which found that two thirds of the public were 'baffled' by the policy:

Phillip Blond isn't universally loved by Conservatives but he's honest enough about the challenges faced by policy makers at Number 10. What Cameron needs, at the very least, is some great case studies - the cornerstone of successful PR in policy.

Blair had his mums and cute babies, the ambassadors of Sure Start - a powerful image which people truly embraced. What image can get the Big Society idea across?

I'm not for one second advocating PR over policy. My point is that you need to consider how to translate policies into the vernacular and policies that fail this test usually falter.

It'll be interesting to see what if this decline can be reversed but I'm doubtful the Coalition know exactly how to sell this idea and until they do expect further councils to follow Liverpool's example.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Andy Gray sacked by Sky

Andy Gray was today sacked by Sky after acting as anchor for their coverage since 1992.

To say that there was no way back from his comments on womens' ability to officiate at football matches is, however, incorrect.

Gray faced a media storm, especially as it enabled opponents of Sky to give them a kicking. His comments were crude and represented the 'old boys' club' - the antithesis of the generation of family viewers Sky Sports is looking to attract.

Despite this, I think Gray's job could have been saved. Ricard Keys' immediate on the record denial was stupid, and the silence that followed was filled with the views of Karen Brady and journalists criticising Gray. If Andy Gray had shown a genuine remorse and met the official he criticised in person, he could have begun to publicly repair his reputation by admitting he was wrong and showing a willingness to change.

A visit to an anti-discrimination charity, an open letter on the Sky website - there was a myriad of options available to begin the healing process and to show some public humility.

Perhaps, in the end, Andy Gray was a victim of a position where he is asked to always stick by his opinion. Or, perhaps bosses looked over his shoulder, saw the fresh face of Jamie Redknapp and decided the time was right.

If you're interested, Andy, then I'm sure Jamie can recommend a good holiday company.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Cameron resurrects the ghost of Blair

It was interesting to read today about an 'intriguing' book name checked by David Cameron in reference to the NHS...Tony Blair's autobiography, nonetheless

Strange that the Prime Minister would look to Blair's original plans for the NHS as aspirational. No doubt Mr Blair lacked the conviction to deliver on the NHS reforms he could have. The ones he did deliver on where a mixture of success (breakthroughs in treatment for cancer patients) and criminal wastes of resources (money spent on dubious IT projects).

The Prime Minister was actually trying to paint the critics of his plans ( such as as the BMA, as Luddites, blocking the road to reform.

The big area of contention is how big a role can the private sector play in NHS reform and what checks and balances on this can be introduced to placate the millions of public sector workers and the rest of the Coalition.

Ultimately, the NHS needs to its serve patients first and foremost and I think it's going to come down to the arguments made by Andrew Lansley and his department over how the money spent is going to improve on Labour's record. If the private sector can facilitate this then will swinging voters actually care where the services come from? I doubt it, but the millions of public sector workers will protect their ground. Meaning we will see more Union clashes for the Coalition.

One thing is for certain - Tony Blair couldn't survive losing the public and neither will Mr Cameron. Which is why I predict we can expect a surprise budget carrot to go with all this stick.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Cameron's Regional Growth Fund runs risk of Dragon's Den comparison

David Cameron and Lord Heseltine have unveiled their Regional Growth Fund - yet the announcement adds no clarity to how regional economies will benefit any further than they did under the previous Government's system of RDAs.

The reason it's not clear is that it is all rather ambiguous, it seems to tick the boxes of what regional business leaders will want to hear without the concrete detail. So we're told that regions heavily reliant on public sector spending will have a better chance of succeeding in the applications - what he taketh away with one hand...

My view is that this policy should have had clearer messaging. It's all coming across a bit Dragon's Den. The rich London kids in the middle are offering the poor people the chance to pitch their crazy 'Northern' ideas - I can imagine many of the Treasury team will find it quite natural to say 'I'm out'.

It's another example of how the Coalition isn't connecting regionally. In the North West, Vince Cable this week ran a comment in Insider magazine outlining his hope for regional growth in 2011

On the same day, Manchester Council leader Sir Richard Leese warned 2011 could be 'awful' as the private sector comes under pressure to fill the gap left by savage cuts

I'm not saying these opposing views are unusual (!) but the point is these two articles came into my inbox on the same email - clearly highlighting the lack of confidence currently inspired by the current plan reducing small business rates and the new Regional Growth Fund.

Will regional business eventually be inspired by what they are hearing or will it need more than the Dragon's Den to resurface from the economic slump? I'll ask Evan Davis...