Tuesday , October 26 2021
Home / Tim Ambler /A Good Yarn needs how many Spinners?

A Good Yarn needs how many Spinners?

Summary:
A Pall Mall club“Good Lord, Humphrey. What are you doing here?”“Well, we both happen to be members of the same club, Minister.”“I know that, and it is very good to see you, but at this time of day, why aren’t you briefing your minister?”“You may recall that I have now transferred to the Cabinet Office where different rules apply.”“I’m surprised any rules apply.”“Indeed they do, but we no longer brief our ministers, Dom Cummings put a stop to that. I am now working with the Government Communications Service (GCS). Ministers tell us what they would like to happen, we decide if it fits with our agenda and, if it does, how the new policy will be publicised.”“Golly. I thought we were supposed to be a democracy.”“Indeed we are. Minister. We track what our electorate really, really wants, instead

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A Pall Mall club

“Good Lord, Humphrey. What are you doing here?”

“Well, we both happen to be members of the same club, Minister.”

“I know that, and it is very good to see you, but at this time of day, why aren’t you briefing your minister?”

“You may recall that I have now transferred to the Cabinet Office where different rules apply.”

“I’m surprised any rules apply.”

“Indeed they do, but we no longer brief our ministers, Dom Cummings put a stop to that. I am now working with the Government Communications Service (GCS). Ministers tell us what they would like to happen, we decide if it fits with our agenda and, if it does, how the new policy will be publicised.”

“Golly. I thought we were supposed to be a democracy.”

“Indeed we are. Minister. We track what our electorate really, really wants, instead of being side-tracked by MPs with all their pettifogging ideas. Now we have AI to respond to their questions and our Dear Leader shouts at them on Wednesdays.”

“Speaking as a “pettifogging MP” Humphrey, I’m not sure I care for this. The GCS must need an army to govern in this way.”

“Surprisingly few, Minister. At the last count, we had just 8,000 staff, 4,500 of whom are professional communicators. ‘Our goal is to provide an exceptional standard of professional practice to support the government, implementing the priorities of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet to build a stronger economy, a fairer society, a United Kingdom and a global Britain’.Or that’s what it says on the tin. In fact, we get our marching orders from the PM, who tells us and we tell the Cabinet. We also tell the media who then tell the MPs.”

“Mr Speaker gets a bit tetchy when the media hear before Parliament.”

“Yes, he does, Minister, but we’ve solved that by leaking everything a few days before it is formally announced in the Commons. That gives the MPs all the time they need, poor things, to think about what they will be voting for before they actually have to do so.”

“That didn’t work well with the health and social care announcements last week. As soon as we discovered the PM was going to put up national insurance contributions to pay for it, we were up in arms. Never mind manifesto pledges; it was hitting young workers to pay for affluent elderlies that ruffled our feathers.”

“Yes, but that gave us time to modify it and still relieve larger employers of their surplus cash. When you think about what we do for the CBI, they should be more grateful. Anyway, companies do not have votes.”

“I still don’t think the GCS has come well out of this. We promised to reform adult social care, properly fund it and discuss our proposals with opposition parties to achieve consensus. We haven’t done any of that. It is a complete vacuum and we’ve dropped five points behind Labour in the polls – quite a difficult thing to achieve with this opposition.”

“Well, things did not work out exactly as intended.” 

“Your GCS team really must explain how social care is going to be transformed when you are giving all their money to the NHS.”

“That is all in hand. Social care comes under local authorities who are all generously funded by the Ministry of Housing. So when the time comes to reveal our wonderful social care reform, we will have to explain that the local authorities have messed up yet again and prevent us from revealing all – or even any. The Director of Communications will fall on his sword and we’ll have a new one ready to step in. No shortage – we have 22 of them.”

“Drum roll, Humphrey. Drum roll.”

“‘We aim to lead the way in developing innovative practices, adapting to the fast-paced, dynamic communication landscape and consistently delivering high-quality results’ but I have to admit that too is just what is says on the tin. It’s a joke, really, and that is what this is all about. The great British public do not care for politicians but they do like jokes, and the thing about jokes is that they are all about how you tell ‘em. So we try to present policy as entertainment; anyone who opposes it must be a pompous bore, not, of course, that I would suggest such a thing in the case of Sir Keir.”

“Great strategy, Humphrey, but a little risky?”

“It does backfire occasionally but then we shoot the monkey, not the organ-grinder. When Dom became the story, not the spinmeister, he had to go. Lee Cain, whose original ‘claim to fame was dressing up as the Daily Mirror "chicken" and pursuing David Cameron during the 2010 election campaign’ followed but fell out with Mrs Johnson and was responsible, according to the same news story, for ‘a series of PR disasters.”

 “Humphrey, I am not sure whether your wit or your memory is declining faster. It all looks like a muddle to me and rather confirms Lee Cain’s parting shot, in his paper for the Institute for Government (IfG), that the GCS is not up to the job, staffing should be cut from 8,000 to 2,000 better qualified people and civil servants should be restored as the lead press/official spokespeople in their departments. Alex Thomas, for the IfG, welcomed those ideas but suggested ‘better messaging is no substitute for coherent policy nor a remedy for misleading statements from government’.”

“Minister, your homework is impressive. I expect you have also read the CGS’s latest annual plan?”

“Well as it is spread across numberless departments, it does not have a plan as such, no costs, measurable objectives nor achievements of its own – just attributing other departments’ successes to itself. Cain is wrong, we don’t need 2,000, we don’t need any at all. We just need to train high-flying civil servants to tell us in plain English what the government proposes and why those are good things to do.”

“I think you are being a little unfair. Our 21/22 Plan shows a mass of achievements in the last year, beginning with ‘Our COVID-19 campaigns are estimated to have contributed to saving between 22,629 and 27,658 lives’.”

“That is itself spin, Humphrey – other departments’ successes. The truth is that we came about in the middle of the European pack, a bit better than Italy and a bit worse than Spain, and I cannot see that the GCS has much to be proud about, especially as we had all those vaccines before anyone else did. The COVID messaging was dreadful.”

“I suppose you will regard the ‘priorities’ for 21/22 likewise?  Surely the plan’s concluding words bring a bounce to your step: ‘We will promote essential government activity, ensuring our citizens have access to vital services and keeping them informed about critical legislation. From guidance on health and safety at work to information on NHS screening, our campaigns are essential to the smooth running of the country.’”

“Total claptrap, Humphrey. I was going to buy you a small G&T but I think you need a very large one.”

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Tim Ambler
Tim Ambler (born 1937) is a British organizational theorist, author and academic on the field of Marketing effectiveness. Ambler featured on Marketing's list of the 100 most powerful figures in the industry. He is cited by the Chartered Institute of Marketing as one of the top 50 marketing experts in the world

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