How David Cameron's PR team duped newspapers across the country with generic 'love letters'
The Yorkshire Post could have published a bylined article this week from David Cameron in support of English Tourism Week, a well-intended promotional initiative which began with Prince Charles urging families to holiday in flood-hit areas.
The Prime Minister’s piece began with the words “I love Yorkshire & the Humber” and was designed to highlight some of this region’s attractions and why this is the UK’s premier visitor destination.
Yet the timing was slightly surprising – Downing Street Press officer Jonathan Bennett telephoned to offer this “very personal” piece at the very moment Mr Cameron was on Sky News embroiled in talks with EU leaders over the migrant crisis which is engulfing Turkey. Was this multi-tasking at its very best?
And then, when the column did arrive, doubts quickly surfaced – it appeared very formulaic, lacked empathy and only made passing reference to the misery caused by the Yorkshire floods.
As many of you will be aware, The Yorkshire Post is still waiting for Mr Cameron to respond to this newspaper’s open letter, published on January 26 exactly one month after the floods, when we challenged the Tory leader to answer a series of key questions on flooding policy – and how he intends to provide this region with the level of investment currently afforded to the South.
Six weeks later, we’re still waiting for a full reply. And that is why, after careful consideration, we chose to spike Mr Cameron’s article on editorial grounds – it would have been a disservice to our readers to give the Prime Minister such a platform when so many homes, businesses and tourist destinations, the latest being Jorvik Viking Centre and the iconic Settle to Carlisle railway, are paying such a high price for the floods.
Jobs are still being lost – it was confirmed this week that German automotive firm ThyssenKrupp Woodhead Leeds is shutting its flood-hit Kirkstall premises which employed 93 people – while firms in the Calder Valley can no longer acquire insurance cover.
And then the insincere – some would say sham – nature of this media operation became clear. The Herald, Plymouth’s newspaper, published a piece from Mr Cameron which began with the words “I love Cornwall and Isles of Scilly”.
It did not end here. The Newcastle Chronicle carried a piece that started like this: “I love Northumberland.” And the same in the Lincolnshire Echo: “I love Lincolnshire.”
The familiar pattern did not end here. For his Cornish audience, the much-travelled PM wrote: “From their stunning beaches and coastal walks to their creative arts projects, this county is one of the many jewels in Great Britain’s crown.”
For the North East, it was this: “From Hadrian’s Wall to Europe’s biggest sky park, this county is one of the many jewels in Great Britain’s crown.”
For Lincolnshire, the PM declared: “From the quaint market towns to the rolling countryside, this county is one of the many jewels in Great Britain’s crown.”
And so it went on with next to no originality.
How much “love” can one PM provide? I’m guessing similar columns were pitched to other media outlets. There was one problem – the Eastern Daily Press column extolling Mr Cameron’s “love” of “Norfolk” mistook Holkham off the East Coast for the Devon beach of Holcombe. A regular visitor would have known this.
This is not personal – it has all the hallmarks of a carpet-bomb PR drop that The Yorkshire Post is wise to, and that Mr Cameron is almost certainly unaware of.
We also believe Mr Cameron thinks more of Yorkshire, and indeed The Yorkshire Post, than to ignore our questions and respond to our open letter sooner rather than later so that this county – and its tourism destinations – are better prepared to withstand future flooding occurrences.
After all, the PM has said on previous visits to the county that he will do “whatever is needed” to help victims of flooding. And, as this week’s article on tourism declared, Mr Cameron does indeed “love Yorkshire & the Humber”. Or so one of his Press officers says...
MY recent invitation to Treasury Minister Jim O’Neill – George Osborne’s right-hand man on the Northern Powerhouse – to relocate to the Sheffield offices being vacated by the Department of Business, Industry and Skills remains unanswered.
I’m not surprised – the Government’s promise to relocate a greater number of civil servants in the English regions, rather than London, is in tatters.
Yet, given the derision which now greets the merest mention of the words Northern Powerhouse, the Chancellor needs to act in Wednesday’s Budget to save this policy before it suffers a similar fate to David Cameron’s Big Society.
This comes after the Department for Communities and Local Government, one of the many Whitehall ministries with overlapping responsibility for Mr Osborne’s supposed flagship policy, revealed that 97.6 per cent of its most senior civil servants are based in the capital.
Even more disturbing was the DCLG’s justification – a London-based spokesman was quoted as saying: “The Northern Powerhouse is about empowering local people, not relocating civil servants from London to tell them what to do.”
So much for a One Nation agenda. Guilty over over-promising and under-delivering, the Chancellor must bite the bullet and appoint a single figure – preferably a business leader – to head the Northern Powerhouse. At the moment there is no policy co-ordination because Ministers are based in three separate Whitehall ministries – the Treasury, Department of Communities and Department of Business – and all have competing agendas.
Furthermore, Mr Osborne should insist that such a leader is based in Sheffield or Leeds to counter the belief that Powerhouse policy begins and ends in Manchester. The reason is this. Like American elder statesman Henry Kissinger’s maxim “Who do I call if I want to call Europe?”, who would a potential overseas investor contact if they wished to speak to the head of the Northern Powerhouse?
Mr Osborne? Lord O’Neill? The chief executive of Manchester Council? The leader of Leeds Council? A junior planning official who just happens to answer the call? Or the whirlwind that is Sir Gary Verity at Welcome to Yorkshire?
The point is this: the longer the Northern Powerhouse is at the mercy of George Osborne and all those stuck in a London comfort zone, the less chance it will have of working.
STANDING on the historic gallops at Middleham on a bracing Monday under clear blue skies, snow capping the peaks of the distant hills as Just Cameron, ridden by Sheffield’s Joe Colliver, completed their preparations for Cheltenham’s Queen Mother Champion Chase, the only word that came close to describing the breathtaking beauty was ‘priceless’.
Even that does not do justice to the view, another reminder why Yorkshire, a country blessed with such stunning scenery, should never take its countryside for granted.