Sunday, June 29, 2008

Loony Politics

Rosalyn Warner is not a well-known name in politics, her non-de-plume Mad Cow-Girl is however. She has stood at various high profile contests since 1997, and will now stand at Haltemprice and Howden. She is of course the Official Monster Raving Loony Party candidate, a party who have a range of policies, and some past policies such as all-daydrinking are now law, but they are known more for being the one standign out in a silly constume as the Returnign Officer reads the results than anything else.

However Rosalyn has been drawn into the debate that sparked Davis' resignation and the by-election. She states on her website the following:

A vote for the Mad Cow-Girl is a vote for a return to real law & order.

I may be a Loony, but I'm not mad enough to want dangerous people walking free in the name of political correctness.

  • Suspected terrorists should be held until proved safe.
  • Sex offenders should be held in asylums until considered safe (if ever).
  • Antisocial yobs can rot in prison if they can't be sociable.

Why don't decent citizens have a "Human Right" not to be assaulted, blown up or harassed, when the criminals can scream human rights if their handcuffs hurt?

Is this a sharp move to the right or sensible politics from a party whose mission statement seems to be to "make elections more fun, brighter, colourful and humorous"?

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Parties want your data!

I did ignore the obvious benefits of both the Tory and Labour NHS 60th birthday cards as I didn't think data harvesting was very interesting or new. But PragueTory alerts us all to a less than ethical application by Labour on The Stirrer, and this links to general trends of reluctance to give data. The Labour card ask for names and emails but once signed you are on the list until you write personally to Gisela Stuart to request removal; I am not certain this is legal never mind moral as marketers are required to offer an opt-out clause to avoid future communication and cross-selling - in other words opting out should be the easy option not made difficult.

But there is a broader point. A colleague presented to the group a week or so ago and argued there was substantial anecdotal evidence within the marketing industry that suggests people are more likely to opt out than in, perhaps no great surprise. But parties if anyone need to be able to contact people as easily and cheaply as possible; hence they need to get people to opt-in. In other words, rather than making it hard and unattractive, the contact needs to be made wanted. Initiatives such as the Big Conversation maybe had that selling point for a short period, but blunt and obviously ill-considered data harvesting just turns people off.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Election Spin

The result in Henley last night was fairly predictable in terms of who was going to win, however it seems that Howell's doorstepping coupled with the Conservatives' popularity not only managed to increase their share of what was quite a respectable 50% turnout, but also depress the votes of the opposition and lead to switching away from Labour. But the most fascinating part of something like this is the spin that the candidates and their respective parties put on the result.

Predictably Howell, after of course highlighting the result also was based on local issues, commented "The British public has sent a message to Gordon Brown to 'get off our backs, stop the endless tax rises and help us cope with the rising cost of living'," albeit a small public this is the Conservative agenda and so any indication of support is useful. Really Howell's spin was fairly simple though, on the back of polling results and Crewe & Nantwich the Conservatives have control of the agenda and it is hard to argue that the collapse in the Labour vote is a local phenomena and not part of a wider picture.

Martin Salter seems to be the only Labour MP to have commented so far, while deflecting criticism on to the Liberal Democrat style of campaigning he remarked "It is very difficult to divine a clear message for Gordon Brown in a seat in which we had no chance at all. It is one of the worst seats for Labour in the country." This is the 'we had no chance, guv', play down the defeat, approach.

Nick Clegg, however, despite not making any impact on the Conservative majority, seemed the most positive: "Labour's days are well and truly over and it is the Liberal Democrats who are challenging the Conservatives in the south and Labour in the north," challenging yes, so far winning no.

The problem is that the media will decide how to play it and they are very much focusing on the disaster for Brown, coinciding as it does with being in Number 10 for a year; however the parties feel compelled to compete and position the contest in relation to their own goals, play down failure and play up victory.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Bebo effect?

The Conservatives joined Bebo, the California based 'next generation' social networking service, just over a year ago. Interest seems to have grown according to this graph of daily page views posted to their profile. The membership seems to be predominantly young (14-24), apolitical but the party's presence is noticed at the very least. Basically it is a free, unmediated way of extending your profile and getting your message out. But also the party seem to have embraced the concept of Bebo. On the comments area of their profile there are 20 posts, seven are from the party, three of which are direct responses to previous comments or, in one case, a conversation between posters; they also have a poll so allowing a better quality level of interactivity. Perhaps this is evidence that parties are finally getting it and that is why their Bebo membership has tripled in the last month to 322, while Labour have 23 friends and their comments seem to have been taken over by the community; the similar is the case for the LibDems and they have 42 friends. Social networks like Bebo are communities of practice, organisations that try to enter them for their own benefit will have the rules imposed upon them; following the rules can make you part of the network.

Taking ownership

While there have been a few bits and pieces done to celebrate the NHS reaching 60 years of establishment, the above is interesting. It arrived as a link by email inviting subscribers to "celebrate this milestone, and to show our support for the doctors, nurses and other NHS workers who play such an important part in our lives". Interestingly it is not from Labour, the party that for 60 years have been synonymous with the maintenance and protection of the NHS, it is from the Conservative party and it will be "printed out and presented by David Cameron at an event on Monday to mark the NHS’s 60th birthday". And so the Conservatives have ownership of a Happy Birthday NHS website and can claim some element of ownership of the NHS while also demonstrating their commitment and support for its institutions.

Labour have created a similar website which acts as a flash page to which all visitors to the party homepage are redirected. What is the difference, the promotion. Labour are not the first to encourage people to sign up by sending the email out to subscribers. Similarly the Conservatives ask people to sign a card, it is below that users are informed that this means the party will contact them. Labour ask people to sign up using their emails, it seems more corporate. But it is the dissemination by email that is genius move: it acts as a visual prompt that the party support the NHS, in encourages signing a card to thank Doctors and Nurses and not sign up to the party; thus it pulls subscribers closer to the party as well as allowing them to circulate the link and get others to sign up.

Is Labour suffering from the credit crunch?

An interesting item of news is that to raise funds to meet its £24 million debt, and presumably to raise money for a future general election contest, Labour is auctioning off a range of 'prizes money can't buy' such as dinner with the X Factor judges or a game of tennis with Tony Blair. Lord Levy commented to BBC Radio 4 that "I think fundraising is cyclical. People tend to support parties they think is going to win, if they feel a party isn't going to win and are not in tune with where the party is at they tend not to want to support it ... I certainly do think that is what's happening with Labour." But is this the real reason?

Charities around the country are facing funding crises, charity is increasingly seen to begin at home. Now charity donations are usually the result of personal involvement in the charity and their work, experience of breast cancer (first or second hand) is a factor that encourages donation. So one can perhaps see, if giving money independent of the organisation is linked by similar reasons, that the problem for Labour may not simply be perceptions of electoral success but that people are unwilling to give money away. Also, within this context, would be even less likely for money to be given to Labour. Could it be more likely, looking at the polls that there is simply a lack of support for the party or what they claim to strive for? Thus, to me, it would seem more logical to stress the 'not in tune with' issue than the perception they are not going to win as sufficient reason that very few will press the donate button for a party when they are not even prepared to support charities.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Politics 2.0

Already labelled DD2.0, David Davis for Freedom is now up and running (finally). He links to Twitter, Facebook and Youtube. A key aspect seems to be donations, though on that page less of a case is made of how the money will be useful to promoting the anti 42 days campaign. However the site is clearly geared to addressing issues relating to civil liberties and is maybe building a grand alliance: Tony Benn joined Davis in a debate, which seems an unlikely combination prior to his stepping down. Benn's endorsement: "This by-election will give the voters in that constituency an opportunity to register their view on this issue, through the ballot box, which is, and always will be, the ultimate guarantee of our fundamental freedoms in a free society" can do Davis' case little harm. How this hub will develop will be interesting, particularly interesting will be the extent to which the public and other interested groups participate. Opportunities are currently limited, I note one comment on his blog post; is this the start of a Politics 2.0 with this issue as a focal point?

All quiet on the Henley front

Henley voters go to the polling booth on Thursday, not that you would know it. Maybe it is because it is a safe seat, maybe because the candidates are doing nothing outrageous, but it is not on the media radar. But the candidates are not exactly striving for national media attention as was the case in Crewe & Nantwich. Conservative favourite John Howell's campaign is embedded within the local Conservatives' site and hinges around a video of him talking about his local-ness and how his concerns are those of the people he seeks to represent. LibDem Stephen Kearney offers similar selling points on his page of the Henley party site, but also opportunities to interact via Facebook and Twitter. Labour's Richard MacKenzie seems to have given up, the party page for him was last updated on 5th June announcing his selection.

The local paper takes a similarly subdued approach, it recognises visits from both David Cameron and Nick Clegg but for them the two Miss World contestants get more attention, though all the candidates, Cameron and Clegg have been interviewed by the newspaper and videos are on the site. But what it seems to lack is any real sense of a contest, the attitude is clear: this seat will not change hands so effort is minimal. Now this makes perfect sense in terms of preserving the campaign funds. But it should also lead to lower turnout and lower interest locally. Research on local voting suggests that voters need a reason to vote, and being asked to and made to feel important are both key to turnout. If effort and asking online equates to the same on the street, which is impossible to tell, Kearney seems most active while Howell is second. That is not going to be the result but if voters are mobilised by effort and there is a link then the LibDem vote could increase proportionately.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

colourful language

There has been a lot of colourful language around this week, and I don't mean swearing but alliteration, hyperbole, embellishment, the sort of techniques that make the difference between interesting and dull. I did like the Cameron insult of Brown 'spineless as a jellyfish'; Tom Harris is defending himself for calling the British 'bloody miserable' on his blog; but the biscuit goes to Andy Burnham. He could have said that David Davis had been having private conversations with civil liberties campaigners persuading them of his sincerity to gain their support. Instead, in an article in Progress, he said Shami Chakrabarti had been "seduced by Tory talk of how liberal they are" during "late-night, hand-wringing, heart-melting phone calls" with "the man who was, and still is I believe, an exponent of capital punishment". Chakrabarti took this as a personal slur and suggestion of something more than an attack on her politics or those of David Davis; a shrewd move as it undermines Burnham completely.

But Burnham did the damage himself. It is a smart phrase, it conjures up a range of images, for me not sexual, more of Davis as a Machiavellian persuader whispering in ears privately to get people on side. But it perhaps was not run past the communications team in his department or in No. 10 - then again maybe it was, but if it was they missed the fact that it could get coverage for being perceived as a personal attack on Chakrabarti rather than an attack on the politics of Davis. So, the language used achieved the aim, it was repeated and publicised across the media. But the language elicited the wrong reaction and so gained negative coverage. Perhaps it is symbolic of a government that seems to just get everything wrong and gets punished for everything, certainly it gives the impression of desperation in their attacks the way the media has treated the story.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Good idea or pointless?

Here is an interesting video, uploaded to the parliament Youtube channel and and attempt to answer and so alter negative perceptions of politicians and in the case of this video those sitting in the House of Lords.

While including elected members may have strenghtened the case, but well made and designed to be persuasive; it puts the uninformed but negative position first and then unravels it slowly before putting a case for 'why politics matters'. It does seem to jump about a bit but a reasonable attempt. Whether it has any impact will depend on if the disengaged are among the 2,360 viewers since may 8th. However this is unlikely, those who believe politics is irrelevant and politicians are self-seeking are hardly likely to dip into the parliament site on Youtube: the web can be used to communicate with young voters but you got to have something to attract them to your site.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Not very rapid rebuttal

Downing Street announces that: The Prime Minister will deliver a speech on liberty and emerging threats to security in London at midday today. Mr Brown will cover a range of topics including the use of CCTV, DNA technology and the extension of pre-charge detention to 42 days; is this going to counter the Davis movement for freedom and will the argument and the credibility of Brown be up to the task? While using a lot of anecdotes, the link between terrorists and the use of false identities, and playing up the notion of safeguards and the role of the judiciary nothing new was said. One wonders, as the Davis campaign gains momentum and a clear message, to what extent the government will be drawn to respond to specific criticisms as opposed to pledging to protect liberty. The most interesting thing about the statement was the way it was sold by Downing Street, Brown did not talk about security and threats, but liberty and threats, this is the Davis agenda and he has already been drawn onto that territory, is this the end or the beginning?

A new political brand?

The campaign to reclaim his constituency, contested only by a beauty queen and the Sun's former editor, has begun. David Davis has launched his David Davis for Freedom website, at this moment there is nothing but information saying the domain is registered, but what can we expect. Given the reason for his resignation this will probably be a hub for opposition against the 42 day detention without charge proposal. Talking on Andrew Marr's show, he talked of an event heavy campaign, one which would see a range of individuals talking about civil liberties; basically he want to put the issue on the map. Certainly he has done that, and while I still wonder about the sense in doing this outside of Westminster at this stage, he has the ability to act as a beacon and amplifier for all opposition arguments as he is likely to be the hottest news in town for the duration of the contest. Initially questions were asked about potential damage to the Conservatives, doubtful there will be any but it could act as a serious nail in the Brown/Labour coffin and cannot do the Liberal Democrats much good, the reason is this steals a key part of their unique selling point, the fair party has been out gunned on civil liberties by the party formerly perceived as 'the nasty party'. I defy Marks & Gran, writers of the Alan B'Stard comedy, who was the fictional MP for Haltemprice, to have put this script together.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Positive or Negative: strategic choices

While Web 2.0 can be used to build relationships through interaction with the public it is also a tool that can be used to spread rumours cheaply without mediation. John McCain reports on a visit by Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari and his meeting with McCain, which he provides photographic evidence of, while saying Barack Obama is speaking to him only by phone. He contrasts this with face-to-face meetings Obama has had with "every tin pot dictator... Ahmadinejad, Khameini, Castro, Chavez, Kim Jong-Il" inferring he talks to enemies not allies. McCain's message questions Obama's ability to manage the complex foreign relations of modern America.

The contrasting image is painted on the Obama blog feed which is very positive and features pictures of Obama speaking today at Flint and the Obama Pride rally, his Father's Day speech, it involves lots of ordinary people maintaining is brand image as the people's presidential candidate. What Obama seems not to do is go negative and personal, he compares himself to those within the system, but avoids personal attacks on the whole. The question is will this undermine his opponent because of his negativity or will McCain's attack undermine the Obama brand?

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The wrong battle?

The resignation of David Davis is quite surprising, and questions are asked in certain quarters of the media if this will have an adverse effect on his career or on the party. But what baffles me is why stand for re-election on this issue. A Sunday Telegraph poll showed 65% of people in favour of the extension of detention without trial; so any referendum on the issue would probably be won by Gordon Brown. As the Liberal Democrats have already declared they will not contest the by-election then it is unthinkable for him to lose the seat, unless Conservative voters simply do not turn out. Also forcing a by-election, and the costs incurred, may not be good PR anyway. There is the personal principle issue, but could he not do and say more from the floor of the house and via the media without stepping down? So the logical reason is to keep the issue, and Davis's objections in the media spotlight. Yet, the House of Lords have already promised to give the bill a 'pretty rough ride' so it will be on the news anyway. So is David Davis fighting the wrong battle here, sure a victory could be sold as a mini-referendum on the issue but the argument would be flawed as that would not be the question asked (particularly if no-one else stands); help me out with this one!!!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

How not to use Twitter!

Twitter is about giving constant updates to those who choose to follow you, followers have the updates delivered to PCs of whatever size and variety. With Downing Street, David Cameron and a number of the candidates in Crewe & Nantwich using it, it seems to be a fashionable tool for permanent and election campaigning. The one team who seem to have failed to grasp the idea a lot of the time is that of John McCain.
Despite being a pioneer of online campaigning, yesterday he sent out four updates one after the other, effectively appearing to be in several places consecutively. One wonders how many of his 660 followers were a little confused by this (I was), and how many followed the links (I didn't). If they had the reason for the burst of tweets would have been clear, the team had just uploaded several videos of him speaking and wanted to instantly inform the world. But to get impact they missed the point. A one hour delay between each may have got them all watched, the immediate release may have got one watched if lucky.

The rhetoric of war

George W. Bush is quoted as saying he regretted appearing as a warmonger in talking up the War in Iraq. The Guardian and Times say "I think that in retrospect I could have used a different tone, a different rhetoric," So phrases used to win support for the war such as "bring 'em on" and "dead or alive" he said, "indicated to people that I was, you know, not a man of peace". Here he is thinking of his legacy, but in reality his language was to rally support to a war few saw as a good idea and linked to the various rumours in the US of the links between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda shows he wanted a nation to be warmongers also. Perhaps his real regret is that he failed to deliver the quick easy victory that the US people wanted, had he done so he would probably say nothing about his use of language.

Monday, June 09, 2008

What is wrong with Labour?

Perceptions are the most important part of a political party brand, I would argue, it is not what the party claims to be but what the voters think they are that determines victory or defeat. The PH1500 panel showed where the Conservatives are winning and Labour are losing just before the Crewe & Nantwich by-election; it makes sober reading for any Labour election strategist but happy news for the Conservatives as they prepare for a long campaign. Based on increases and decreases in associations between a term and the party, Labour are extreme, bigoted, divided, unclear what they stand for, stuck in the past and corrupt. In contrast, they are not reliable, modern or fair minded, do not stand up for people or are interested in helping, and lack ideas. The Conservatives are the mirror image. So Labour's task somehow is to reduce all of the negative associations while encouraging people to believe they are modern, reliable, fair minded, full of ideas and on the side of the people; the Conservatives need to watch the corruption issue around expenses and ensure they do not lose any of the positives. Currently, however, all the qualities that historically have been desirable for a government or leader are possessed by the Conservatives and have been lost by Labour in the last 12 months.

Courting the opposition

After a fairly dirty fight it is difficult to heal the schisms among supporters, particularly when you need them to support you and not their preferred candidate. Obama has now launched a charm offensive targeted at Clinton's Democrats. Taken from an email to supporters, but also used across the Internet and in interviews, is the following:
Senator Clinton made history over the past 16 months -- not just because she has broken barriers, but because she has inspired millions of Americans with her strength, her courage, and her commitment to causes like universal health care that make a difference in the lives of hardworking Americans. Our party and our country are stronger because of the work she has done throughout her life, and I'm a better candidate for having had the privilege of competing with her. Senator Clinton will be invaluable to our efforts to win in November, and I look forward to campaigning alongside her to bring this country the change it so desperately needs...
Suddenly Obama and Clinton are fighting for the same cause, no longer is an outsider versus and insider. Clinton has paved the way for a Democrat victory and for Obama. Obama has learned from her through the competition. Above hall is expresses humility and seeks not just the endorsement she had to give but her active support through the campaign. it is almost saying if you do not actively campaign you are letting your supporters down. Great rhetoric and use of language, his communications team are excellent at these sorts of arguments where the purpose is dual and perceptual.

And the answer is.... 42

Why is the government having a hard job selling the idea of 42 days detention without charge for terror suspects? The problem is that there is no logic for the specific number. To sell an argument a factual and sensible underpinning is required, if someone could say this is exactly why it takes 42 days to gather evidence, question the suspect and make a case then it may gain some credibility. It seems that every minister, just see Jacqui Smith on the Andrew Marr Show, prevaricates on the issue and fails to really explain why 42 days was the right number. To me, and perhaps to many others, it just does not seem convincing and I think this is the main reason why there is a problem. Civil liberties are always seen as sacrosanct and any infringement is controversial, hence the government need to make a strong case for every aspect of the extension. Is it me or do they seem unable to do so?

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Right message, Right media

Advertisements leave impressions with the viewer, few are constructed to directly make people think or evaluate the argument but accept it, perhaps subconsciously, or want to find out more. Hence it is no surprise that the majority of advertisements shown so far in the race for the nominations in the US have remained concentrated on television. However there is a new function for the Internet, while Youtube can amplify messages by allowing them to be re-posted, advertisements, websites and social networking is all about donations. Hence perhaps, Obama, the man most active on the web has earned the most donations, Clinton had to dip into her own purse while McCain relies heavily on Republican money. As we move from the nomination race to a Presidential contest will we see the Internet becoming more important for both candidates or will Obama carry on outstripping his opponents: I guess the key question is how much money can Americans afford to give to a campaign?

Unique style

The media seemed to side with RMT Union Leader Bob Crow and have fun blaming Boris Johnson for the weekend's over the top celebration on the Circle line in response to the drinking ban. It is rather odd to blame the man who is outlawing public drinking for riotous behaviour caused by public drinking, perhaps the real error was to decide to bring it in on 1st June a Sunday rather than middle of a week when partying is restricted by work. But you have to like his analysis of the event, he is quoted as saying the party was: "anthropologically misunderstood... I think what we had there was the kind of exuberant, Celtic-style wake for the passing, the long overdue passing, of a custom". Given the last time he spoke about wakes one hopes few Liverpudlians were involved.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

what should we read into this?

Speaking in Michigan on Monday Obama gave a simple message: “The sooner that we can bring the party together, the sooner we can start focusing on John McCain in November.” Yes he wants the campaign over with and to have his victory confirmed. But there is a new dimension, he also said: “Senator Clinton has run an outstanding race; she is an outstanding public servant... She and I will be working together in November.” Is this a message to her, or to America, that she could be offered the position of his running mate?

Propaganda or reflecting the public mood

"My constituents do not believe it is fair that they should face a constitutional discrimination as well as meeting additional costs which identical people in Scotland, and to a lesser extent in Wales, do not face. This is the English Question." This is an extract from a speech delivered today by Labour backbencher Frank Field at the University of Hertfordshire and probably picked out of a press release by a large majority of the media. Whether the current system of devolved governments is, as Field argues, "one of the festering sores in English politics" is a big question. I have seen no opinion poll data to back this up and have not seen it high on the news or public agenda, in fact it is only mentioned when comparing health care, prescription charges and student fees but not seldom is it placed in a wider context. So this may be a personal campaign of Frank Field's that he wishes to promote, and this is a very good way of constructing the argument. While Labour are already in decline in Scotland and Wales, Brown may be counting on the heartland of Britain to retain loyal. Field argues that it is these voters who may "defect to the Tories or British National Party" unless the English are given a parliament. Of course Field does not back this up, basing it on inferences to his constituency, nor can he state to the voters that an English parliament would redress the imbalances in disparities, but it is a very persuasive argument that hits Brown where it currently hurts the post: how to recapture the heartlands of Britain.

Magnaminity is good!

There has been a huge uproar about Hillary Clinton's comparison of the current nomination race and those of her husband but also the ill-fated Robert F. Kennedy. "You know, my husband didn't wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary sometime in the middle of June. Right?... We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California. You know, I just-- I don't understand it." This has been interpreted in a number of ways, all being seen as offensive to the Kennedys, Obama and even an expression of a hope that Obama would be assassinated. Obama could have used this in a number of ways to discredit his opponent but, as victory seems to be going his way ever quicker, he chose not to attack. Speaking on the Puerto Rican radio station Isla, he said: "I have learned that when you are campaigning for as many months as Sen. Clinton and I have been campaigning, sometimes you get careless in terms of the statements that you make. And I think that is what happened here.
Sen. Clinton says that she did not intend any offense by it, and I would take her at her word on that." While it is impossible to assess whether this is Obama's way or a skillful and strategic bit of personal PR, but whatever the case it has resulted in the latter. Obama is able to look generous, understanding and compassionate, perhaps have any of his own gaffes overlooked, but also undermine attacks from Clinton. For him it is win-win and may well be intended to offer voters an insight into his Presidential style.

Monday, June 02, 2008

A lost cause?

Imagine the scenario, you have just got home from a night shift or preparing to leave for a day shift, it is 6am. The telephone rings, I would wonder who has been taken seriously ill or died as no-one rings that early. But there is a strangely familiar Scottish accented voice on the other end 'Hello, Gordon Brown here. I'm calling about the email you sent'. OK enough of the bad literature. An insider is quoted in PR Week as attributing this to Stephen Carter, Downing Street Head of Strategy, intended to humanise the PM by getting him to call people personally. "Carter will choose a letter or email at random, have one of his team at Number 10 prepare a response, then get Brown to call"; the insider claims. More damningly they criticise the ploy: "Carter's idea is well meaning, but it's not working. Improving Brown's image through PR is now being looked at as a lost cause".

While we have no idea who the insider is or how close they are to decision making, this little vignette tells us a great deal about the thinking inside Number 10 currently. There is clearly a sense of desperation, after all one would expect a Prime Minister to have better things to do. Secondly, perhaps Brown is seen as a liability and so the team prepares a response, not him, they choose the letter or email as well, perhaps keeping off topics he is not good on, and then they get him to call the author. But the BBC puts a much better spin on the story interviewing one recipient of a call: Wajid Rafique. He wrote criticising conduct of the Iraq War and Brown contacted him "apologised on behalf of the Labour government for what had happened to the people of Iraq... and said he would give his full concentration on the withdrawal the British troops... I believed what he said and felt like he was on my side" Mr Rafique is quoted as adding.

Perhaps indication of a recognition that politicians need to contact voters more, but perhaps also a PR stunt aimed at gaining headlines. Is this one of the final acts of a desperate administration? Does the insider show the failings in communication that seem to dog the government? What does this tell us about the strategic thinking behind government PR?