Tory insiders brief press to complain at Lib Dem insiders briefing press

by Stephen Tall on April 9, 2011

PR Week carries, without any seeming irony, an account of ‘tensions’ at the heart of the Coalition’s spin machine — with Tory insiders briefing their discontent at Lib Dem insiders briefing the media:

Cracks are beginning to appear at the heart of the Downing Street comms operation, with the Liberal Dem­ocrats accused of riding roughshod over the Number 10 media grid. Advisers to Prime Minister David Cameron are becoming increasingly frustrated with Lib Dem media tactics, as Nick Clegg’s party attempts to distance itself from the Conservatives ahead of the local elections on 5 May.

The Deputy PM and his aides are accused of briefing out their own stories, rather than sticking to the news grid, which aims to maximise the impact of major Government announcements. ‘There has been much annoyance recently about Clegg’s off-grid activities,’ said one well-placed insider.

The story offers three recent examples:

  • Nick’s recent newspaper interview hinting at a possible ‘mansion tax’ — which overshadowed David Cameron’s StartUp Britain initiative to support entrepreneurs, which had pride of place at the centre of the Number 10 comms grid;
  • A couple of days later, apparently, ‘Clegg’s aides briefed out key details of the Government’s social mobility strategy – a week before it was due to be launched’; and
  • Susicions that it is the Lib Dems who are ‘behind a number of stories in recent weeks suggesting that the Government is putting the brake on Health Secretary Andrew Lansley’s NHS reforms’.

A Number 10 spokeswoman has refuted the story: ‘I really don’t recognise the assertion. We work very closely with the DPM’s office, as we do with all government departments, when it comes to planning news about government business.’

Whatever the truth of the story, it does indicate the risks of the new Lib Dem strategy of putting clear distance between the party and the Tories — though of course the last nine months has also shown the very real electoral risks of lashing the Coalition partners together too tightly.

One story in PR Week of supposed tensions is neither here nor there. When it would matter is if this starts to become an established and self-reinforcing media narrative seemingly demonstrating that coalition government is inherently unstable and doomed to failure.

In reality all governments are divided, even when formed from a single party: between ‘wets’ and ‘drys’ (Thatcher), Eurosceptics and Europhobes (Major), Blairites and Brownites (New Labour). But the media, which would love nothing better than to see the Lib Dems elbowed entirely out of the picture, will do its utmost to portray division as (i) the Lib Dems’ fault, and (ii) proof that cooperation between parties is impossible.