Ed Staite: Will the reshuffle help the Government to communicate?
Edward Staite is an international communications consultant and campaign adviser.
Ultimately a government can only be judged by how it performs; if it delivers tangible results then voters are likely to give it another chance at the ballot box. Between elections, however, the way a government performs is more often than not measured through how effectively it communicates. When times are tough this makes effective communication even more pressing. So how are the changes to the Cabinet going to change the way the Government communicates?:
Andrew Mitchell (Chief Whip)
A key role in future months. Has proven himself to be a wily political operator making the journey from re-tred MP in 2001 to the new Chief Whip via acting as campaign manager to David Davis’ leadership bid and a 'right-winger' in the shadow cabinet. Will need all these skills now. As International Development Secretary, he did very well to communicate his department’s work by providing compelling pictures for 10 o’clock news of various visits he made to global trouble-spots. Will need communication skills of a different kind to keep morale and discipline in the parliamentary party which, if successfully achieved, could significantly reduce the level of negative stories regarding the Conservative Party.
Grant Shapps (Conservative Party Chairman)
Has been an effervescent performer as Housing Minister with many Conservatives hopeful he can make the party chairman position a much more visible job than under his predecessor. Has been criticised for being prone to a re-announcement but in his new job a repetition of the message is essential. Successfully built up a reputation as a campaigner despite a mixed track record – this shouldn’t be held against him as party chairman is often about winning the perception game. Also successfully embraced digital media, so look out for his influence in this area at CCHQ too. Often performs better on radio than TV so hopefully can become a regular on the Today Programme to help set agenda as well as put out fires.
Developed a good network of journalists which saw him build up a profile as the Conservatives' main "attack-dog" in opposition, but this left him vulnerable to attack which, ultimately, is why it has taken until now for him to make the Cabinet. A strong briefer behind the scenes and an able media performer – General Richard Dannatt misshap aside – which will give the Government another Cabinet level face to deploy around TV studios. Solid if uninspiring when on media, but creative in developing positive stories which is a key area where this Government has been lacking.
Jeremy Hunt (Health)
A thoroughly decent man and this generally comes across in the media but has seemed to lose some confidence over the BSkyB row. Andrew Lansley got too close to his brief which made him a terrible communicator about NHS reforms. Hunt must stop talking in health jargon and make what the Coalition is trying to do to the NHS accessible to voters. His relationship with the various health and public sector unions will also help to determine whether or not he is seen to be doing a good job where his inherent pleasantness will be essential.
Justine Greening (DfID)
Thankfully binned her terrible line in turtleneck sweaters replacing them with sharp suits. Prone to being too careful with her words which means she misses good opportunities that have been given to her in the past. Comes over far too preachy in a Patricia Hewitt style which doesn’t pass the kitchen test (no one likes being lectured to through their TV’s in their living room, kitchens or even bedrooms). She should look to how Andrew Mitchell communicated while at DfID for the template of how to do it.
Maria Miller (DCMS)
Has been a fine performer for a number of years – when she has had a chance - so great to see her promotion at last. Will need to be visible on her DCMS brief but also as Minister for Women which Labour has identified as a weak point for Conservatives. A new face to most voters so hopefully the Number 10 grid will give her an opportunity to get out and about.
Patrick McLoughlin (Transport)
A rare media performer as Chief Whip who is pleasingly direct and satisfactorily speaks with a regional accent which few in Cabinet do. Once the Heathrow consultation is up and running this will hopefully allow him space to make appearances on broader issues in the way Philip Hammond used to when in this job. Should be deployed as often as possible via BBC local and regional radio where his no nonsense approach should be welcome.
Owen Paterson (Defra)
Not an area which needs a great TV performer but Paterson will need to work hard with various interest groups to show that the Government and Conservatives are on the people's side. Should focus time and energy investing in local and regional papers and media as well as the Daily Telegraph who campaigned hard against forest sell off.
Andrew Lansley (Leader of the House)
Not a position which requires a visible media presence and after the hammering Lansley took over the NHS reforms that is a big positive.
Theresa Villiers (Northern Ireland)
Her predecessor was rarely near a TV studio so don’t expect to see much of Villiers either unless she is to be used to help fight the claims of sexism pushed around by some Lobby hacks.
David Jones (Wales)
Has been the MP for Clwyd West since 2005. Before that he was briefly an AM. Immediately he communicates something positive to the people of Wales – he is not only Welsh but represents a Welsh seat.
Verdict: Some very poor communicators have been moved aside and replaced with people who are either more able or more likely to connect with voters generally or certain target groups. With George Osborne under strain at the Treasury one or more of these needs to step up to assist the Prime Minister in communicating the Government’s achievements and quickly.