Sunday, November 07, 2010

Workfare: A Failure of Communication

I'm watching my colleague Shane Greer take part in a 10 minute discussion with Chuka Umunna on Sky News talking about the new Welfare to Work proposals, which were widely trailed today in the Sunday papers.

The fact that Shane is taking part in this discussion at all illustrates a real problem at the centre of the government's communications strategy. It's clear that the proposals were briefed heavily by someone yesterday - either someone close to IDS or from Number 10. But they clearly hadn't thought about the reaction. Obviously the News Channels were very interested in the story and it's been running all day on Radio 4, 5 Live, LBC and others. But the only reactive voices you hear, apart from Danny Alexander's, are Labour politicians and right of centre commentators - none of whom, it seems to me know any more than what they have read in the papers.

Don't get me wrong, Shane did a great job in debating with Chuka, and even got him to agree with some of his points, but shouldn't there have been organised follow-up from a small group of nominated backbench MPs who could have fanned out across the airwaves and put across the case in a way that commentators can't.

Or is it that the media thinks it will get 'better soundbite' from the likes of Shane than they ever will from an on-message MP?

There are some very good, media friendly backbench Tory MPs. Downing Street should utilise their talents, and the media ought to pay more attention to them than they do. Because, as I know full well, once you get on the media lists, and you continue to perform, they keep coming-a-calling.

Secondly, I bet this is the lead news story on most local radio news bulletins and breakfast programmes in the morning. Have MPs received a briefing to enable them to give good interviews on the subject?

I very much doubt it. No doubt that will happen on Thursday when the White Paper is issued. But by then it's too late. The story is four days old. Sure, it will get some cursory coverage, but news editors will rapidly lose interest in a story that started today.

But that is what happens when you brief the Sundays about a White Paper which should first have been introduced to Parliament. I've said it before and I will say it again, but yet again, PR requirements are taking precedence over parliamentary proprieties. If you're going to do that then at least make sure the media planning is done properly. In this case it certainly wasn't.


Tim Fenton said...

And Andy Coulson is doing a good job?

I have Alastair Campbell's blog on my reading list (and suspect you do too). What he says about this - and he will have something to say about it, even if Burnley getting a point at Norwich gets priority - will make for interesting reading.

And I agree on the continuation of announcing via the media rather than on the floor of the Commons. So I do hope that if Mr Speaker fails to upbraid Young Dave on the matter, you'll be on his case sharpish ;-)

Unknown said...

There does seem to be PR problem on the Govt side at the moment - the Lib Dems could have made more on the concessions they achieved on Tuition Fees, the appointment of a photographer could have been handled better and, as you rightly point out, today could have been handled better

Have they already made the PR staff redundant?

Anonymous said...

what is interesting is the touted idea of forcing people to work for their benefit.
there is a minimum wage in this country. i can see no reason why the government can exempt itself from its own legislation. sure make people attend schemes to reintroudce them to work.....but they should be paid properly for the 3-4 weeks they work. partly out of fairness, and partly because it might just click with some of them when they ended up with a few hundred quid more than normal they this work idea could actually improve their lives...and they would have the tangible proof in their pockets.

Old BE said...

And why was it announced to the press first?

This is exactly the kind of thing we hoped we had got rid of with New Labour.

Anonymous said...

Will Campbell admit this used to be Labour policy?

What's controversial about it?

If the Archbishop of Canterbury is against it then I would suggest it must be plausible.

I think leaking things is poor policy, but the important point is to do the right thing. You will never please Archdumbo Williams.

DespairingLiberal said...

It's really becoming quite comically obvious just how much the Tories are using poor sad little Danny the Dupe to front all their most aggressive plans. With each passing day, one thing becomes more and more clear - no floating voter will again make the mistake of thinking that a vote for the LibDems is a "good alternative" to voting Labour.

On the issue itself, workfare in the US has been much more sophisticated (and costly) that the new Tory proposal for the UK. It included numerous assist programmes to retrain, coach, push and encourage the unemployed with deep personal advice and support on everything from appearance and personal hygeine to learning how to talk to the boss. Clearly the UK programme is a sort of thinly-dressed up community service, with all the banal uselessness that programme is famous for.

Anonymous said...

Can someone explain why no one on the BBC news can point out that it was Labour policy? Why Wee Dougie Alexander can criticise it painlessly?

Nigel said...

>>there is a minimum wage in this country. i can see no reason why the government can exempt itself from its own legislation<<

I wondered about that, too - and can't argue with your conclusion.

Cynic said...

Great idea but poor presentation. I run a small company and what I have seen in last 3 years has opened my eyes:

* every time we advertise a job we get perhaps 15 to 20 requests from the Job Centres for a report on how clients have done at interview. In most cases we have never heard of them and they are lying about applying so they can stay on benefit

* we did recently interview one long term unemployed man. He was very down about his situation, or so he said . We offered him training and a job. It was a 15 minute bus ride from his front door. The answer? "Sorry, I don't do public transport and am only prepared to work somewhere local I can walk to". Given that he lived in the middle of a housing estate where there were no jobs ......

* we have lots of staff who only want to work 16 hours a week so it doesn't disturb their benefits. We can offer them full time work but they wont take it

Matt said...

Iain, here is a conversation my wife overheard, the other day, very soon after the announcement that mothers would have to get work when their child reached the age of 7:

WOMAN 1: "I am really worried."
WOMAN 2: "Why?"
WOMAN 1: "Well, the government have announced plans that when a child is 7, the mother has to go off benefits and go to work."
WOMAN 2: "You don't have to worry about5 that! Just before you son's sixth birthday, get pregnant so that when your son reaches 7, you'll have a new baby! And when THAT one reaches 6, have another one! And now as women are having children up to 60, you need never work again!"

My wife's comment to me: "The new rule had only been out a few days when these scroungers had already worked out a way to fiddle it!"

Lord Blagger said...

So lets see.

MPs get priority. The public, who the hell are they?

Quite. It shows the priority of politicians.

Next. Nick Robinson and no doubt Iain himself. When some story breaks like Brown's temper. Robinson denies it on camera, and later admits he knew all along.

Politicians first, public? Who the hell are they?