Nicholas Jones - Blog and Archive Website

When Conservative governments set about curtailing employment and trade union rights the route map for massaging public reaction follows tried and tested procedures.

Headline-grabbing objectives are floated in briefings to well-informed journalists, and then, amid a flurry of media interest, ministers row back from worst-case scenarios insisting that high standards in the UK will not be eroded.

Political honeymoons are often short lived, but few Prime Ministers have squandered media loyalty and support as rapidly and comprehensively as Boris Johnson.

Dominic Cummings' forced departure has paved the way for the launch in the New Year of White House-style televised briefings from Downing Street by Allegra Stratton, who is to become the new face of the government.

The gruesome finale to Maria Miller’s seven-day struggle to hang on to her cabinet post as Secretary for Culture, Media and Sport was a text book example of the high-wire political news management that blighted the Blair years.

Her resignation within a few hours of the start of Prime Minister’s questions mirrored that of Peter Mandelson’s second on-off resignation from Tony Blair’s government in January 2001.

He finally stood down from his position as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland less than an hour before the start of questions in the House of Commons, allowing Blair the chance to wipe the slate clean when he was challenged at the despatch box.

Mrs Miller was only too well aware that David Cameron would have had to face a near impossible task trying once again to fend off criticism of her own inept handling of the investigation into her claims for parliamentary expenses.

Her resignation was announced at 7.18am on Wednesday 9 April; she had given Cameron the benefit of almost five hours in which to prepare himself before he had to face the Labour leader Ed Miliband.

Reading the reviews of the one-man play, The Confessions of Gordon Brown, I had a sudden pang of conscience: Did I perhaps encourage the former Labour Prime Minister to follow a path which in some small way may have played a part in the ultimate defeat of a driven but tragic figure?

Back in the distant days of Neil Kinnock’s leadership – and Gordon Brown’s promotion to the Labour front bench – we often spoke to each other the phone.

As a BBC political correspondent struggling to make his mark, I found the shadow chief secretary to the Treasury an eager pupil when it came to trying to understand – and then exploit – the demands of radio and television news bulletins.

Few politicians have applied themselves with greater diligence to the task of feeding the never-ending appetite of the news media.  During his decade as Chancellor of the Exchequer he effectively re-wrote the rule book when it came to publicising the Budget and I came to regard him as Labour’s “most prolific and longest-serving trader in government secrets”.

But as Kevin Toolis, the Scottish journalist, screenwriter and film-maker explains, Brown never managed to sell hope, the one commodity which mattered most of all, to a southern English electorate.

Toolis has crafted an insightfully-written monologue, performed by the actor Ian Grieve, and it tells how the “prize of power that Gordon Brown had plotted and schemed for all his life eluded him even after he finally seized the crown from his usurper Tony Blair”.

A Budget leak by the London Evening Standard – listing on Twitter the key changes to be made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne – has lifted the lid on the lengths to which successive governments have gone in manipulating the presentation of financial announcements.

By mistakenly tweeting its own front page splash on the Budget twenty minutes before the Chancellor had even started his speech, the Evening Standard inadvertently confirmed the extent of the collusion between the Treasury and selected political correspondents.

Why, might one ask, would a Chancellor want his officials to give exclusive details of his Budget in advance to an evening newspaper in London? 

The answer is simple: the Evening Standard presents the City of London’s financial markets – and the rest of the news media – with the first considered impression of the announcements in the Chancellor’s red Budget box.

No spin doctor would dare to under estimate the potential impact of the Evening Standard’s front page; after all this is the first serious assessment of the Chancellor’s announcements. 

By mid afternoon on Budget days, within an hour or so of the speech, copies of the Evening Standard are landing on the London news desks of national newspapers and radio and televisions newsrooms. An image of the front page might well be reproduced in the early evening news bulletins – and if all the Treasury briefings have gone to plan – the thumbs up from the Evening Standard will, so the government hopes, have a positive influence on other journalists.