I don’t know if Malcolm Tucker is to be killed off now that the coalition has replaced Labour, or if a new coalition version may replace him, but if the latter is the case, he/she and its scriptwriters may want to be aware of a dark arts strategy known as MTBL, which might help a storyline now and then.
MTBL stands for ‘memo to be leaked’, and as we surveyed the press in Downing Street each morning, we grew quite expert at spotting which department’s internal views and workings had been placed there deliberately, whilst seeking to give the impression that the whole thing was the work of a lone ranger with a grudge and a good contact in the papers.
Every now and then, we might be responsible for a MTBL of our own, usually an analysis of our opponents’ weaknesses, or a forward strategy plan. It is amazing how you can stand in front of a microphone and say things which the media will sniff at as being boring and lacking in news value, but if they are put down on a ‘memo’ which the words ‘private’ and/or ‘confidential’ on them, then somehow their newsworthiness soars.
Today’s papers have a very good example of what I would have judged to be an MTBL, namely a very frank analysis of the business concerns about Local Economic Partnerships [LEPs], written by the Tory minister of state in Vince Cable’s Business department, Mark Prisk.
I must admit I had not really been aware of Mr Prisk until this morning, and I could be doing him a grave disservice in even suggesting this was an MTBL. For all I know he is eating up the carpet this morning as he surveys the handiwork of the leak all over the press. But if that is the case, then it is important that internal memos are not writtten in a manner that might lead to suspicions that they are MTBLs. Look, in the interests of good governance, I am trying to be helpful here, and trying to avoid the situation he has landed himself in where a ‘Tory source’ is dismissing him as an inexperienced panicker (not good on your CV when the next reshuffle comes along).
The thing is that MTBLs always refer to ‘strong concerns’ (in his case the concerns of business that LEPs won’t aid growth). They often warn of ‘failure’ (one of those words politicians and policy-makers really don’t like). They usually refer to, as well as cause, division, so the reporting of ‘considerable friction’ with the business community has heavy MTBL symptoms attached to it. There is the quoting of ‘respected’ outside third parties whose concerns are directly quoted, including the deputy director general of the CBI, who will be touched to see his concerns being taken to the highest level. Throw in words and phrases like ‘lack ambition … undermining our agenda for growth … lack of credible business representation … lack of clear cut focus … poor business engagement …’ and you have enough to be feeding a good headline writer for days, not to mention fuel the concerns of the media managers in Number 10.
The other thing about MTBLs is that they need a nice wide circulation so that the author or the leaker can put on what we call a wild-eyed Whelan look if anyone dares to suggest they leaked it, and point to all the names copied in, not to mention their wretched private offices and special advisors.
The Prisk memo went to the offices of Messrs Clegg, Osborne, Pickles, Alexander (the strawberry blonde rodent), Letwin and Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O’Donnell, in addition to the direct recipient, Saint Vince. Lots of suspects in there then.
Anyway, to cut a long letter short, it is basically saying why the hell are we getting rid of Regional Development Agencies which did a pretty good job and which had built up a lot of business support? And why are we replacing them with something not thought through, seen by business to have been rushed, and which risk doing more harm than good?
Fair points. On the first, however, it was an election commitment, so they’re stuck with it. Good to see some of them coming round to the point of view opponents of the move put forward at the time.
A similiar situation is now developing on the jobs front, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development today adding its voice to those warning that the enormous number of public sector job losses will lead to even more job losses in the private sector. Be careful what you wish for, as we warned Tory voters in May.