Tom Baldwin's inaugeration as Labour spin guru occasions Tim Montgomerie to appraise Andy Coulson. For many, Coulson has committed the spin doctor’s cardinal sin and become the story, and not just his more voluble opponents on the left. Tim rejects that analysis, but concedes that Coulson may drift to pastures new in 2011.
Coulson’s record is quite impressive. He snared the tabloid press, and, together with George Osborne, ended Gordon Brown’s short honeymoon, exposing the Labour leader’s indecision with well-timed tax cut promises. The Election That Never Was spawned a far more enduring theme: Labour’s internal fissures and the timidity of its senior figures. If Coulson goes, that will be his legacy.
In government, Coulson has sought to micromanage the government’s message. This creates its own problems. Tim writes:
‘His risk-aversion means that almost no one is allowed to speak to the press. This leaves large parts of the media without clear direction on government strategy. Columnists, in particular, complain about a lack of attention.’
Some ministers prefer a natter and a Bath Oliver with journalists more than others. Generally, though, the government needs to stimulate more positive publicity in the press, especially on economic matters once the cuts bite. Coulson has failed here, but perhaps it’s beyond his control. There are also rumours that Osborne and Steve Hilton (and their respective camps) disagree vehemently about long term strategy – when will austerity cede to optimism. The only fact of the matter is that Osborne is hiding good news. There are things about which a communications director cannot communicate.