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Helping George and Danny with cuts: Part 2

Posted on 10 June 2010 | 2:06pm

Dear George and Danny,

I trust you have been busy getting on with looking at the idea of ending charitable status for private schools, and so have not had time to reply to my letter on the subject posted here yesterday. No offence taken, and I will continue to ‘engage’ (Danny … you don’t need to say it in every sentence of every interview, one in ten will do) in the debate on the process of cuts consultation you have launched.

May I also wish you well in seeking to reconcile what now appear to the diametrically opposed Con/Lib positions on student financing with George’s boys seeing students as a burden on the taxpayer (copyright D Willetts) and D Alexander, N Clegg etc having garnered many of their votes with a pledge to oppose tuition fees rather than raise them. Oh dear, it could start to get very tricky inside that Treasury boiler-room.

Anyway, nil desperandum, onwards and upwards, and I have another one for you to help you along.

No longer having access to those bright young things at the Treasury, I cannot claim to have all the figures at my fingertips, but I reckon you could save a lot of money by doing something I tried to do but failed – namely implementing proper centralisation of communications and advertising budgets.

Now you may think I was a control freak, and you may even believe the claims put around by my opponents that I gripped the Whitehall machine with a fist of iron. You might be right on the first bit, but wrong (in some respects at least) on the second.

Every now and then someone would run a story about all the money being spent on advertising and comms, and it would all be laid at my door, for the obvious reason that George’s party and most of the papers liked it that way.

But twixt me and you, I was as hacked off as anyone at some of the sums being spent on campaigns that frankly either didn’t strike me as worth doing or, if they were, lacked the effectiveness to justify the budget.

There was of course a Central Office of Information but frankly departments tended to do pretty much what they wanted. I tried of course, but you know, there are only so many hours in the day, and so many fights you can fight.

Of course many of the campaigns are needed … one thinks of pubic health information campaigns, or public sector recruitment (not that there will be much of that) … but quite a few are not. So spare us too many glossy telly ads explaining what you’re up to. However, IMHO (ask your kids George, Danny’s are still too young) real savings in this area will only be made by the kind of centralisation I was often accused of but never quite managed.

So you guys agree what you think is a reasonable budget for comms and advertising, place it somewhere central with your own person in there with the right mix of political, policy and comms judgement, and then make departments bid from within it according to what they believe their needs to be. Job done. All in the spitir of consultation too. But never forget – to quote that gripping tale of politcal derring-do penned by Norman Fowler – MINISTERS DECIDE.

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  • Hilary Grant

    Yes, but then you will have to cut down on public sector comms and private sector ad contracts … I think you are trying to lead G and D in the wrong path … and I hope you are successful if that is the plan

  • Chris Gee

    Why can’t the leadership contenders show a bit of lightness and wit in their debates. It is of course a lot harder to get attention in opposition but they need to show a bit of humour and above all some good ideas for the future. Also I cannot get excited by Diane Abbott being in there. As a real socialist (as opposed to one who describes herself as such) I do not get past base one — she sent her child to a private school … and yes I did agree with your blog yesterday. Not so sure re today’s … need to see the numbers

  • Hal

    Come on I can spot a book in the making from a long way out … poor Danny and George don’t know what is going to hit them when you eemerge as new HG Root!

  • Lou Rossati

    I thorough agree with Chris Gee on both the need for more humour among our leadership candidate comrades…and about one D Abbott.

  • Laura Pritchard

    I have to say I thought that “seeing students as a ‘burden on the taxpayer’ (copyright D Willetts)” quote as the most incredible, patronising insult ever. It came across as, ‘Us Adults have all benefited from extensive state funded further education and gone on to good careers and steady incomes and now we don’t want to pay for yours. Who cares if you grow up being told to work hard at school and then we cut funding to further education AND young people job finding schemes. Who knows we may even find a way to cut apprenticeships and any other ‘non essential’ government spending on young people. But remember, we hate all those yoofs wandering around our pristine, Labour rejuvinated, coffee shop infested town centres. We want to fix Broken Britain (sic), don’t you know? Our plan is to bring back National Service and Borstal.”

    I tell you, if I was a yoof, I’d feel like breaking a bit of Britain right now.


  • Jacquie R

    It looks as if cuts in comms and advertising are well under way. I read in Campaign that the COI is to have its budget reduced by £160m, a huge decrease if it’s correct that its spending in 2009 was £208m.

    We also have the prospect of the impact of the appointment of Lord Browne – the ex BP chairman, and probably now bloody glad about the ex bit – as government super director. He has the task of bringing commercial style management to government, which Cameron wants to be run as efficiently as Tesco. It makes the blood run cold a little but, all in all, it’s probably no bad thing and Lord Browne is pretty impressive.

    Every little helps, even if one does shop at Harrods.

  • Altany Craik

    witty and sharp as always.
    Don’t think they’ll listen. If they do then they’ll claim it as their own ideas. Never been an original thought in their heads and its not going to start now.

  • Jacquie R

    PS Now that the Special Advisers salaries have been published, it would be interesting if Alastair would comment on the £140k pa listed for Andy Coulson. It falls very short of the speculated amount of over 400k. Was that just pie in the sky? Or does the published £140k leave quite a bit out, e.g. bonuses, perks, last year’s salary etc?

  • Phil Bourne

    Yep… another good one to bag…although as mentioned in other comments a bit light on the numbers today.

    However, having said that the media never seem to let the facts get in the way of a good political point so why should we? Lets call it another £100m shall we? So to date we have ..errr.. lets see £100m Charitable Status and £100m from the Comms budget…soooo… that’s a billion pounds already! (over 5 years of course… because we do so want the number to sound impressive don’t we)

    Right then, onward and upward!

  • Graham Jones

    Blimey, is Caroline Flint bitter, or what? Every time she appears on the TV she seems to be gripped by a fascination for attacking Gordon Brown.
    I understand how people can harbour a grudge, but tell her to let it go Alistair. She was sacked because she couldn’t handle the brief, not because she was a woman.
    If there really had been a problem with women in government, then I don’t think Yvette Cooper would have been so highly thought of, and trusted by GB. The truth is that Cooper, was incredibly talented and a capable minister, as well as being a good communicator. Indeed, it is a pitty she has stood aside during the leadership election, to allow her husband Ed a clear run. She could have won.
    This is one of the most interesting leadership elections for a while, as the prize at stake is a realistic chance of being Prime Minister. It is different to any of the tory or lib-dems contests in recent years, as they were non-events.
    Whoever gets to lead the Labour party into the next election, will have to remind the public, that they didn’t vote for the cuts that are on the way. Osbourne has to be put to the sword, because he’s been allowed to shield behind Laws, and now Alexander. Labour are right about waiting before cutting, and must remind people of this. Yes, Labour need renewal, like all parties who find themselves in opposition, but they must remember not to throw the baby out with the bath water. New Labour was a renewal of so many things that needed to change in the party, and the public had to have a perception of that. This isn’t needed this time. The public want to see the party have understood where they went wrong, and can show where they are going. The constant parroting by Miss Flint doesn’t help the party here, and doesn’t help her. It would be better if she showed the same dignity that Gordon did, when he oversaw the constitutional quagmire, that is a hung parliament.

  • hilary gavin

    So, Alastair. As a formar journalist and commentator for the Daily Mirror (“Labour’s only voice in the General Election campaign”), how about a comment on the 200 job losses announced yesterday?

  • Krystyna

    I have met Caroline Flint and have always liked her, although she is letting herself down over Gordon.

    Graham Jones, I agree with your post 100 per cent and look forward to the day when Yvette Cooper finally becomes Labour’s first female prime minister.

  • Andrew Williams

    Good idea, and the public would love it. Those big advertising campaigns always had a counter productive effect in my opinion. In the New Labour years most of their campaigns would be met by cynicism.