Why doesn’t the BBC give reporters a by-line?

GUEST POST: Mo Metcalf-Fisher is Head of Press at the Countryside Alliance. Follow on Twitter. Connect on LinkedIn

It’s easy to get frustrated, but after a few months on the job you quickly get used to it. The main reason for this is that you learn the quickest and easiest way of addressing a problem with a news item is to liaise directly with the author of the piece.More often than not, issues can be resolved amicably and professionally.

At all levels of news output, from local to national, the ability to speak with a specific journalist about their story is incredibly important.

I am not talking about articles you simply don’t like, of course, but items that are genuinely badly written, factually incorrect or lacking in balance. Sometimes, even, the absence of a basic right of reply.

Obviously, depending on the severity of a grievance, press officers may have no other option than to immediately escalate their complaint to the highest levels. In most cases (certainly from personal experience), a basic acknowledgment is often provided promptly.

More often than not, though, the preference is to keep it between the two parties without involving editors or, in the most severe cases, IPSO or Ofcom.

Thankfully, in most cases, online news websites make the process of identifying a journalist incredibly easy.

Their name is often placed at the top of an article with a link to their portfolio.

Frustratingly, I have often found this sensible process not to be applicable in the case of the BBC – specifically, its news site.

Most BBC articles lack any mention of an author, which makes the process of complaints incredibly hard to follow, should it be required.

It is difficult to know exactly who to complain to and, in the real world where minutes count for hours, press offices cannot wait for days to hear back from a centralised complaints department.

If there had been no attempt to make contact with your press office in the first instance, it is almost impossible to know how to identify the reporter behind a piece.

When I have been afforded the opportunity of working with a BBC reporter, I have found them to be courteous and professional.

However, this can be overshadowed by a frustration – which I know many in the PR industry share – about the lack of author transparency.

If the BBC is to enjoy the confidence of press offices, it must ensure that its reporters are accountable for their own work and easily identified.

I see no reason why this cannot be the case, given that every other significant news outlet does so already.

The BBC should promptly follow suit.

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This piece was written for PR Week

Publishers are investing in print

GUEST POST: Owen Meredith is CEO of the Professional Publishers Association (PPA). Follow on Twitter. Connect on LinkedIn

How challenging is your new role of CEO of the PPA

It’s been a really interesting and exciting time to take it on. We all know the challenges every business has faced through Covid-19, particularly publishers, but I’m excited to have the opportunity to support people through the recovery. There’s light at the end of the tunnel with the vaccine rollout, and we’re making sure that our members have the tools in their armoury to take advantage of every opportunity that comes their way so they can rebuild and grow their businesses back. 

What are the current top concerns of your members? 

One of the main concerns is changes in the advertising market. Since the early weeks of the pandemic, the advertising market has come back with some strength, particularly digital, which is performing better than forecast. But for print, the forward-booking advertising market has been really challenging because we still need to build long term confidence. We’ve also seen strengths around print subscriptions, where people are looking for time away from a screen, and there’s some opportunity there for both publishers and advertisers.

Are publishers throwing a lot of weight behind their print versions? 

Through the crisis, some  publishers temporarily moved out of print because of changes at retail due to Covid-19 restrictions. Also, B2B publishers, who were sending print copies to workplaces, were suddenly not reaching their audiences in the same way and they had to adapt.

In the consumer market people have turned to print as a form of escapism and a way to indulge their interests and passions. Here publishers are investing in print, investing in pagination and paper quality. I’m sure we will see more of that as people crave more time away from screens. 

How important is print’s sustainability to publishers? 

Print is a highly sustainable product and our members are very committed to the sustainability agenda.

At the PPA we have a Sustainability Action Group that looks at how we can improve our carbon footprint and commitment to ecology, so print is definitely here for the long term. If you look at the way publishers have changed, how they deliver their print products in terms of paper wrapping and other alternatives to plastic, there is a sustainability agenda that print can support.

What events do you have planned for 2021? 

The PPA Festival in May is one of our most important events. I think realistically we are not going to be able to hold a face-to-face event of the scale of previous festivals, but we are looking at creative ways to provide networking opportunities, insight and content to members and the industry. At the end of June, we have our PPA Awards, and we are optimistic that we can do a face-to-face event where we can celebrate the industry and – hopefully – the economy and life returning to normal.    

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This piece was written for The Page.

The consequences of ‘gagging’ Trump

GUEST POST: Mario Creatura is Head of Strategic and Digital Communications at Virgin Money. Follow on Twitter. Connect on LinkedIn

Late on Wednesday evening Facebook chose to ban President Trump from their platform and Instagram indefinitely, but at least for the duration of his presidency.

Twitter temporarily froze his account, but then took the more drastic decision of banning him permanently on Friday. Given his words directly led to the violence on Capitol Hill, who could blame them for taking this potentially preventative action?

While social media companies have for some time now been encouraged to remove accounts perceived to be harmful or criminal, this is nevertheless a watershed moment for the core definition of these organisations – one that will shape the role they and regulators play in curating our digital world.

This could not be more important. It all centres round the ongoing debate about whether social media companies are ‘publishers’ (with an editorial policy akin to a traditional newspaper) or ‘platforms’ (where they act as the passive host through which any and all content can be shared).

For years now they have maintained the façade that they are platforms – in short that they are not to blame for much of the biased, twisted material that’s shared through their tool. But if they are making choices about who to ban, what content is permissible, and what action is justified in the policing of their sites then their argument quickly deteriorates to the point of ridiculousness.

This is not a semantic, academic debate for media lawyers. In late November last year, Prince Harry sued the publishers of The Mail on Sunday over a story claiming that he has fallen out of touch with the Royal Marines. If Facebook is a platform, then they are broadly protected from similar lawsuits. If they are acknowledged to be a publisher then this totally changes the ballgame and leaves them open to such libel actions as well and could remove them from the protections of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

The banning of President Trump from social platforms will likely have a huge impact on clarifying this debate. Social media companies are undeniably taking an editorial stance, one that many will agree with in this instance. But once that premise is accepted, how can we object to future judgements that we are less keen on?

Too little, too late?

In this very specific situation, what will the impact of Facebook and Twitter’s decision be on Trump’s advocates?

His removal from these platforms takes away his primary means of communicating to some of his increasingly aggressive base of supporters. One possibility is that over time this ban will hurt him and his populist philosophy by making him seem unconnected and ineffective. They could think: ‘If Twitter can silence the great Trump, is he really the all powerful leader we think he is?’

The alternative, far more dangerous path is that it will yet further embolden his fanatics. A scenario that paints the elite, wealthy techno giants as being in hock to the out-of-touch Democrats; claiming they are so terrified by Trump speaking the truth that the will do anything to silence him. ‘They stole the election, now they’re trying to gag him!’ In this version of events, where do these people go? Do they continue to spout their views on mainstream channels, without an obvious leader to corral them?

The editorial decisions made by social media companies could quite feasibly create a digital Hydra – they can try to cut off the head, but many will grow in its place, spawning yet more leaders of hyper-partisan, totally populist campaigners to accompany his already large following of loyal lieutenants.

After all, it’s simply too late to now be punishing Trump by removing his bully pulpit. He’s on his way out and frankly the damage has been done. And he’s not done it alone, dozens of his Senators, Congressmen, political staffers and loyal media outlets have stoked the rhetoric that led to the violence in DC. It has already spread too far for it to be halted by simply banning Trump.

What’s next?

While Trump’s gagging on social channels sends a clear signal that tech giants are taking their curating role seriously, it needs to be more than a Democrat-wooing PR-exercise. Personal responsibility needs to be taken urgently among our lawmakers and the press to self-regulate the content that they all individually publish, whether or not digital companies are finally identified as publishers. We simply cannot wait yet more years for this debate to play out or for social media companies to regulate free expression retrospectively.

For one: it will cause resentment of the social channels from the perceived oppressed side of the deal. If Trump is censored by Twitter, then Trump supporters will turn their guns on to Twitter.

For another: social media companies are significantly more adept at adapting to the shifting needs of the digital sphere. There is already fear that any attempt by legislators to regulate social media will be out-dated and irrelevant by the time the lengthy legislative process is complete.

Whose job is it to police the digital police if they exist beyond traditional borders with little knowledgeable accountability?

The decision to ban Trump has already unleashed waves of criticism – some arguing that it’s an attack on free speech, others that it’s a more serious assault on democratic institutions. That pales into insignificance when compared to the mass of calls for an entirely reasonable principle: fairness. Many are calling for Twitter to ban Ayatollah Khamenei for the same reasons as Trump – will social media companies be able to operate their content moderation policies consistently?

It took Twitter three days to remove a post from a Chinese Embassy trying to spin justifications for their Uyghur genocide – do they have the capacity to apply them fairly? The pressure on them to be consistent, in speed and judgement, will grow and grow exponentially.

Trump may have led the creation of the ripe environment for sedition, but many agents played their part in advancing it. Obfuscating social media companies, slow legislators, and partisan communicators all must share in the blame for last Wednesday’s violence.

For that accountability to happen, influencers need to get to grips with their responsibility to consider the consequences of their personal content and for us all to understand the true role of the social media giants.

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This piece was written for Influence.

Boris must find the bandwidth to take on Sturgeon

GUEST POST: Eliot Wilson is Co-Founder of Pivot Point and a former House of Commons ClerkFollow on Twitter. Connect on LinkedIn

Being prime minister is not an easy job. Whether you adopt the approach of Thatcher’s four-hours-a-night, or Macmillan’s retreating to Trollope novels at moments of extreme stress, it is a position which occupies your every waking (and probably many a sleeping) moment; the situation is not helped by the fact that the vast majority of prime ministers live ‘above the shop’ in the apartment complex of 10-11 Downing Street. Time to think can be at a premium.

Boris Johnson is certainly not short of challenges to which he could devote his brain power.

Covid and Brexit are the two most obvious and pressing matters, but one could easily add the “levelling-up” agenda, HS2, the grievous state of the hospitality industry, repayment of the national debt, the examination system in schools, NHS shortages and law and order, and that would be the in-tray only half full.

Being leader of the opposition is a very different matter. The effective levers in your hands are virtually none, especially when you face a government with a healthy parliamentary majority early in the electoral cycle, and if you are not to be wholly reactive (“We think the government should have gone further…”) then thinking is one of the few things to which you can devote a lot of time.

Just before Christmas, Sir Keir Starmer made a “major” speech on devolution and the Union. 

This is the sort of parlour game into which opposition leaders are forced; those who occupy the territory willingly are political oddballs and often Liberal Democrats. The content of the speech promised a commission to examine the devolution of power, advised by former prime minister Gordon Brown.

While this is not a move which will capture the imagination on voters’ doorsteps, it is a sensible and grown-up response to the persistent popularity of the SNP in Scotland and the inexplicable perception that the first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has handled the Covid crisis well.

A recent poll showed support for Scotland’s secession from the Union at 58%, which would be a comfortable plurality at a referendum. 

This is literally an existential threat to the UK: from a business point of view, secession would mean the United Kingdom losing the human capital of 5.5 million people, access to the oil and gas reserves of the North Sea, an enormous potential source of tidal and wind energy and the huge financial services sector in Edinburgh, apart from anything else. It is by no means unrealistic to imagine an independent Scotland by 2030: the government must address this.

What must worry unionists is that Boris Johnson, personally and institutionally, simply does not have the bandwidth to take the fight to the nationalists at the present time. It is often suggested that Johnson, for all his mixed heritage an ineffably English figure, is ill-suited to woo a truculent Scottish electorate.

But if not him, then who? The Labour Party lost its relevance in Scottish politics with its Westminster annihilation in 2015, and its Holyrood leader, Richard Leonard, is the sort of man who is forgettable to his own memory foam mattress. The Liberal Democrats are a harmless fringe. Faute de mieux, the battle for the Union must be an SNP/ Conservative fight.

But who is going to stand in the front line? The Scottish secretary, Alister Jack, is a landowner who looks like a refugee from a late-stage Macmillan cabinet; Baroness Davidson (as she will become) is a proven vote-winner but is only standing in at Holyrood until next May; the Scottish leader, Douglas Ross, is accident-prone and yet to find an authentic voice which resonates with the electorate north of the border.

The prime minister needs help. He needs some heavyweight unionist figures (who need not necessarily be Conservatives); he needs an ultra-smooth and highly responsive media team; and he needs some enormous brains to sit in darkened rooms and find the arguments against secession which will strike a chord with the voters.

The second and third categories should not be impossible to satisfy. The first, the cheerleaders, may prove more difficult. If anyone has any ideas, the address is 10 Downing Street, London SW1A.

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This piece was written for City AM.

Boris has won the Brexit war, now he has to win the peace

GUEST POST: Sir Robbie Gibb is Senior Advisor at Kekst CNC and former Director of Communications at No.10 Downing Street. Follow on Twitter. Connect on LinkedIn

A little over a year ago, Boris Johnson went into the general election promising the British public: “Back me and I will get Brexit done.” They did and he has. This momentous deal not only marks a new chapter in Britain’s history but will rightly stand as a historic triumph for a Prime Minister who has all too often been misunderstood and maligned.

We were told by critics it was impossible to get a deal of this magnitude done in this time frame, that the Government could not represent Britain’s best interests in Brussels while simultaneously battling Covid-19 at home, that there would not be enough time to negotiate new trade deals with other nations while fighting on these two major fronts.

We were even told that Britain would be putting its citizens at risk by not being a part of EU efforts to find a vaccine against the deadly virus.

Yet here we are.

We have a zero tariff deal that restores our sovereign rights in full. We will no longer have to align with EU rules nor will we be subject to the European Court of Justice.

Our Parliament will be free to set its own laws, we will no longer have to pay into the EU coffers and we can set our own immigration policy.

We have signed 61 trade deals with other countries and Britain leads the world in its vaccination programme – with 600,000 people already receiving their first jab by Christmas. Not bad for a Prime Minister who critics claim lacks an eye for detail and is indecisive.

He has led his nation through the unprecedented dual challenge of battling a pandemic while seeking to break free from the orbit of Brussels.

While Brexit prematurely ended David Cameron’s premiership and destroyed Theresa May’s, Mr Johnson has held his nerve and delivered, just as he said he would, for the country.

Sir Keir Starmer has instructed his Labour MPs to back the deal when it comes before Parliament next week and there are signs that all but the most diehard Brexiteers will support it too.

Mr Johnson has shown why the British people continue to keep their faith in him and why the polls have held up so well for the Government.

No one understood better than him why the public voted for Brexit and why it was vital not to sell the nation short to secure a deal.

But in his heart, the Prime Minister is a man who wants to unite not divide.

For of all the myths about him there is none greater than that which seeks to portray him as a leader who revels in controversy and division – the very opposite is the case. That is what his levelling-up agenda is all about – uniting our country by ensuring that no one feels left behind as we forge our own future outside the EU.

We should be under no illusions about the challenges ahead. Covid has decimated our economy, leaving hundreds of thousands out of work.

The vaccination programme may well free us from our current captivity but for millions this has felt like the darkest week of the longest year.

Two highly infectious super-strains have forced another lockdown in all but name for vast swathes of the country and we have all felt the pain of being kept apart from loved ones this Christmas. But there is, finally, hope that Britain may well be turning a corner in this battle.

Alongside the Pfizer vaccine a second, made by scientists at Oxford University, is expected to get the green light in the coming days.

And there are currently no signs that these mutated versions of the virus will be resistant to our vaccines.

Having achieved with Brexit what many thought was impossible, the Prime Minister now faces another set of seemingly impossible challenges – to free Britain from the grip of Covid, to rebuild our shattered economy and to bring prosperity to every region of the country.

He also needs to heal the divisions that opened up around Brexit and unite a country that has been at war with itself for too long.

Mr Johnson has four years before the next election to get Britain back on its feet and to unite the country. It would be an unwise man who would bet against him succeeding.

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This piece was written for The Telegraph.

It’s time for Boris to focus again on levelling-up Britain

GUEST POST: Peter Cardwell advised four Cabinet ministers in the May and Johnson administrations. He’s the author of ‘The Secret Life of Special Advisers.’ Follow on Twitter. Connect on LinkedIn

Boris Johnson has had a rough fortnight. In ugly scenes, the Prime Minister lost his most senior adviser, Dominic Cummings, his long-standing communications aide Lee Cain and even, temporarily at least, his own personal freedom, as he was forced to self-isolate in his Downing Street flat after meeting an MP later diagnosed with Covid-19.

And on Friday his key lieutenant, Home Secretary Priti Patel, reacted to a critical report by apologising for the unintended results of her behaviour, which some civil servants felt was bullying. Government can be tough, and high office requires tough elected politicians and equally tough people working with them as both their advisers and civil servants. As a government special adviser myself for three-and-a-half years, working alongside Dominic, Lee, Priti and occasionally Boris himself, I know that pressure well and the relentless focus needed to get things done by people at the top. There is always a tension between the political team, who are generally in the roles for very short periods of time, and the longer-serving civil servants.

I certainly made myself very clear to civil servants over the years, sometimes in very forthright terms, but I know that my intentions, like Priti Patel’s, were always to get the things done that the Conservative government was elected to do, not to make anyone feel uncomfortable or intimidated.

So I hope the psychodrama inside Downing Street and beyond is now over, not just for my friends who still work there, but, above all, for the country.

And while it’s unfortunate timing, Boris’s self-imposed solitude is actually a useful moment for him to think carefully about who to appoint to a new top team.

His new chief of staff has to be anonymous to the public but well-known and trusted by ordinary Conservative MPs, who have often felt neglected recently by a bullish Number 10. Someone like long-standing Conservative backroom operator David Canzini would be ideal.

The Prime Minister will be using this time to mull over many issues. But to his immense credit, instead of feeling flat in the flat, BoJo is getting his mojo back.

He is using this much-needed break to push forward important announcements, showing the Government’s commitment to a greener economy, a stronger defence system and outlining his desire to “level-up” the economy.

One problem, though, is that most people don’t have a clue exactly what “levelling-up” means.

A year ago, Boris was telling us all to “get Brexit done – unleash Britain’s potential”. The first bit is done, so now Boris needs to explain the second.

The reality is, levelling-up is a very simple, but radical, idea. Boris believes everyone in the country, and particularly in the North of England, should have exactly the same opportunities and government attention.

This means investing in neglected high streets, high-speed rail across the North and an ambitious local public transport fund aiming to make bus, train and tram travel as good as London’s.

Environmental reforms are a huge part of levelling-up too.

Many will have rolled their eyes at last week’s news that petrol-only and diesel-only cars are to be phased out over the next decade.

But buying that greener, more efficient new car you’re going to get anyway in the next decade will create jobs and pump money into an economy which desperately needs it, as well as saving the planet.

As many as 40,000 extra jobs could be created in places such as the West Midlands, the North-East and North Wales through the manufacture of new electric cars alone.

Making our homes, schools and hospitals greener and more energy- efficient over the next 10 years could create a further 50,000 jobs.

And not only will levelling-up create a fairer system for everyone, it’s also good politics. Boris knows many voters in the North only lent the Conservatives their vote in last year’s election, and may switch back to Labour in 2024, especially now Jeremy Corbyn is gone.

Boris has got to repay the trust of these floating voters by making their jobs more secure and the country safer – to do what governments are meant to do.

With a line now hopefully drawn under the Downing Street soap opera, Boris is getting back to what he does best – being the Boris we elected in 2019, the outward-looking leader who connects with people from all walks of life.

But more than that, Boris understands that the Government’s job is to make Britain be all it can be.

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This piece was written for The Sunday Express.

Mental health in Lockdown Britain

GUEST POST: James Price is Senior Account Director at Hanover Communications. Connect on LinkedIn. Follow on Twitter

Many of the unpleasant by-products of this rotten year are easy to see: masks abound, streets are quieter and many, many pubs, restaurants and shops are shut. But another consequence of 2020, the one I fear the most, cannot be seen. Like the virus itself, it stays hidden away inside us – out of sight but never out of mind.

I am talking about the potentially devastating damage to our mental health if the people of Britain are locked away over the winter, unable to participate in the simple things that make life worth living; seeing friends, holding loved ones and generally feeling hopeful about a brighter tomorrow. 

It’s hard to consider, for example, the idiotic measures on ‘non-essential goods’ being rolled out in Wales, without concluding that those in charge are getting the balance disastrously wrong. Likewise, the suggestion of banning people from separate households from meeting outside feels so inhumane and so thoughtless, that it simply cannot have been devised by someone living alone in a small flat.

Yet putting aside, for a moment, the official response to the lockdown – suffice to say if we do not learn to talk to one another and share our struggles at this time, then the epidemic in depression and anxiety will have truly ruinous effects on society, on the economy, and on families. 

In recent years, our healthcare system and occasionally our institutions have made some important steps towards acknowledging that poor mental health can destroy individuals and families as much as any virus. And public figures, from Prince William to Lady Gaga, have been admirably brave in talking about their experiences. 

But we remain, as a nation, emotionally constipated in our ability to talk about the struggles that millions have faced, are facing, and will face before this pandemic is behind us. Of course, emoting endlessly about our feelings with no practical end in sight is counter-productive, and with our stiff upper lips and propensity to Keep Buggering On, we are hardly suited to being a nation of navel-gazers. But for the last 20 years, the number one killer in the UK for men and women aged 20-34 has been suicide. Suffering in silence is infinitely worse than oversharing.

Six years ago I tried to kill myself several times. I was completely beaten by depression, saw no joy, no future and no point in carrying on living. I nearly jumped in front of several tubes, prepared to jump off a tall building, contemplated overdosing on something horrible and (bizarrely, looking back now) would often cycle around London at night hoping to be hit by buses.

And while the fear that I may once again fall into the depths of such a personal Hell again has never really left me (and bubbles of despair occasionally waft up from the depths), I slowly got better and have been piecing my life back together ever since. There are still many amends to make, not to mention the unpayable debt to my beautiful mum who talked me down from the edge. But I am vastly luckier than the thousands of people who don’t get better and take their lives every year, not least because my employer understands and takes these issues seriously, and because I have an understanding group of friends and family.

Because of that, I have tried to speak candidly and calmly about the struggles I have had with the depression that almost killed me. As a former Government Special Adviser and Conservative Parliamentary candidate, my logic has been that if a big, ugly, hairy right-wing Brexiteer can talk openly about having been suicidal, it might make it easier for others to do the same. 

As a result, over the past few years, dozens, possibly hundreds of people have got in touch privately to share their worries and fears. It’s tough to hear, sometimes unbearably so, but it does seem that the simple act of talking out loud about our struggles helps. By acknowledging our feelings, we can begin to define them, measure them and crucially, to understand that they have their limits. And treatments like cognitive behavioural therapy, not to mention medication, can alleviate acute cases. 

Of course more funding from businesses and the Government to help those who particularly need to speak to professionals will help, too. But I fear that unless we collectively resolve to fight it, this winter could be shattering to the mental wellbeing of so many people who have already struggled through 2020. A national effort will be required to administer consolation to our fellow creatures in this dark hour. 

So I am asking for you to take a minute to reach out to someone you haven’t heard from in a while and remind them that you exist and care about them. And if you’re struggling through dark days as you read this, remember that it really will be alright in the end. And if it’s not alright; then it isn’t the end.

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This piece was written for The Telegraph.

Keeping a cool head in a crisis

GUEST POST: Mike Love is Patron of Conservatives in Communications. Follow on Twitter. Connect on LinkedIn

As I write I’m listening to news reports in the UK critical of the Government’s latest anti-Covid-19 measures for not being restrictive enough and for “not following the science.”

Until now, the loudest criticisms had been that they had acted in too draconian a way and had slavishly “followed the science.”

Anybody who has shared my experience of being a crisis manager will sympathise with the “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” fate we have all known at one time or another and that those government crisis managers and their political masters must be experiencing today.

When I’ve been in “the war room” managing a crisis I’ve always tried to shut out those “we know better” voices.

That risks ignoring what might be good advice, but the greater risk is that you become dazzled like the rabbit in the headlights by bright but allusory and dangerous shiny objects which might seem momentarily attractive as “get out of jail cards” but almost certainly needed greater scrutiny than you have time to give.

My apologies for metaphor and allegory overload!

A good crisis manager is one who can in Kipling’s words “keep their head when all about them are losing theirs.” Figuratively, not literally hopefully.

Keeping your nerve is probably to key attribute required.

In a crisis situation things invariably change fast and furiously. Best laid plans fall apart and wargamed playbook scenarios are too often quickly become irrelevant. And if you have time to read the Crisis Manual then you aren’t really in a crisis.

Don’t get me wrong. I am a great believer in preparation and planning. And manuals!

The best professional advice I ever received was from my friend Harvey Thomas, famed former “advance man” to Billy Graham and Margaret Thatcher. I asked him for his top three tips and they were “prepare, prepare and prepare.”

The LEADS Test after which my blog is named was itself a methodology I developed not just to help corporate leaders to make tough policy decisions but also to be used as a war-gaming techniques to help plan, prepare and test those scenarios to develop a best practice playbook.

But these techniques and methodologies were designed for crisis training – to help business leaders and their communicators to prepare for the worst days that hopefully would never happen and to guide them in conducting business and communications in ways to help prevent them from happening at all. The training should help you to understand how to make the decisions, not to dictate what those decisions will be.

I’ve not managed a crisis where the scenarios ever neatly fitted our pre-planned playbooks. But every single one of them fitted the lesson from preparing them – to understand how to take responsibility.

In many organisations, particularly big ones, taking responsibility is something people try to avoid. Afterall there’s always a consultant or adviser to blame, and in the biggest organisations there are hundreds and sometimes thousands of people to help take the blame when it goes wrong, but strangely they rarely share the credit when it goes well.

The key learning for participants in those preparation and war-gaming exercises, the only one that really matters, is to learn how to behave in a crisis. Not so much what to do, as specifics vary enormously, but to understand how, when and why things should be done.

The best crisis management preparation and training is to learn how to be in the right frame of mind, to ignore siren voices, and to keep your nerve.

When decisions are made, they are your responsibility. Whether things go well or not, it’s important to remember the mantra famously espoused by one of my former bosses Margaret Thatcher: “advisers advise and ministers decide.”

No matter how many people are in the room, literally and figuratively, giving advice, and no matter how many “we know better” heads are outside it shouting in, the ability to take responsibility for your decision is ultimately why you are paid to be there.

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This piece was written for Mike’s blog.

Set Boris free

GUEST POST: Peter Bingle is Director at The Terrapin Group. Connect on LinkedIn

In these strange virtual times, this year’s online party conference has a special importance, not just for the Tory Party but also for the Prime Minister. His speech will help to define the rest of his tenure at Number 10.

I have supported Boris Johnson since his first campaign to become Mayor of London. In a world full of dullness and a body politic stuffed full with the second rate and dull, he was a real breath of fresh air. He discarded political correctness, but crucially exuded optimism and fun. 

I predicted that he would beat Ken on both occasions. It wasn’t hard to do so! Londoners loved this political maverick who made us all smile, chuckle and even laugh out loud. His record at City Hall was superb, thanks to his two great chiefs of staff – Sir Simon Milton and Sir Edward Lister. 

There was no greater supporter of Boris when he announced he was a candidate to succeed the hapless Theresa May. Here was a Tory who could inject zest and optimism into a political party which resembled a corpse. 

My only fear was some of the people advising him. I dismissed those worries, but time has shown that I was quite right to be concerned. 

In the December election, I predicted a majority of eighty and was delighted by the result. Boris could now literally change the political landscape for a generation. A politician who appealed to people from every walk of life. Once again, the Tory Party was a national political force. Our PM was a populist who understood what made normal voters tick. 

However, the problems started long before the pandemic. He chose a weak Cabinet and the Number 10 team, with a few exceptions, makes his predecessors’ team look competent. That is some achievement! The political ramifications are now all too clear. 

Firstly, Boris no longer exudes optimism and confidence. Folk are now starting to laugh at him rather than with him. His attempt to position himself as a modern day Churchill is just plain silly. 

Secondly, Boris no longer seems in control of events. He is a reactive PM who is now defined by an increasing number of U-turns. Boris doesn’t appear to have a grip on what is happening. 

Thirdly, Boris is being let down by a Number 10 team which doesn’t seem to understand the concepts of strategic communications and messaging. The Cabinet is also weak. 

Lastly, I no longer have any idea if the government has a policy agenda. The one exception concerns the increasing role of the state. There has never been such a ‘Big State’ government. This isn’t why people vote Tory …

For all of this, I still have faith in Boris. He needs to show us that he is not only in control but actually still wants to be PM. Then he can start the crucial task of rebuilding and re-energising his special rapport with the British people. 

The first stage is a ministerial cull of epic proportions. There is great talent on the back-benches, which needs to be tapped into. Not just youngsters but also former ministers and people who should have been made ministers in previous governments. 

The second stage is to have a very clear policy agenda which embraces and motivates traditional and new Tory voters. Economic competence must underpin all the government’s future actions but so too must a belief in the primacy of the individual rather than of the state. 

The final and arguably most important stage is to set Boris free. On form, this is a politician like no other. Never have people needed to be cheered up more than now. Boris is the political antidote to the gloom created by the pandemic. His advisers need to play to his strengths. 

The next six months will determine the success or otherwise of the government. We need both inspiration and optimism in equal measure. Boris remains the man to deliver both. Britain needs him. 

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