I claim no special insight into, or influence over, George Osborne. It was interesting however to note that within a day or two of my suggesting here that he needed to step up the communication of his economic Plan A, our relatively low profile Chancellor went on what by his standards may be termed a media blitz.
An IMF report which contains enough for him to spin things his way (provided he carefully ignores the rather less convenient downgraded growth forecasts elsewhere) was a relatively straightforward backdrop to his latest media outing. I didn’t hear his Today programme interview but the coverage of it suggests he was unneccessarily defensive about the way the media views him, the government and the economy. Looking at today’s headlines, you’d have to say they are still in something of a honeymoon phase.
That is perhaps why I was very struck by a piece from Steve Richards in the Independent. I hope he and his paper will forgive me when I admit I have not read the whole thing, but he gets generous treatment in the Labour Party’s media monitoring report, which I still get and which remains one of the best media briefs in the business (plug over, keep me on the mailing list, thank you).
It goes as follows … ‘Out of the media limelight, but obsessed with headlines’ (Indy op-ed) – Richards says of Osborne that his projection of the policy and of himself is both ruthlessly brilliant and artlessly awkward. He finds echoes of GB’s strategic approach in Osborne’s. GB opted for a relatively low profile for much of his time as Chancellor, using the big set-piece events in the Chancellor’s year and the occasional interview for public definition. Osborne chooses to do the same. This is unusual for a Chancellor. In some ways the Osborne/GB technique is highly effective, conferring on the elusive public figures a gravitas that ubiquity always undermines. Even though Osborne is not an economist and his policies are at best unproven, Richards detects a degree of awe when he is interviewed, or at least a tendency for soft questioning. At his peak the same applied to GB. However, this elusiveness dehumanises in the era of eternal communication. Osborne has a natural wit and rarely uses it in public. The same applied to GB. Although Osborne limits media appearances, he is obsessed with the media, another echo with GB. In his early years as Chancellor GB secured headlines to die for. But too often the fingerprints of his entourage were easily identifiable so that GB became the main victim of media exercises aimed at boosting his image. Similarly, most weeks Richards reads columns or hears analysis in which Osborne is so obviously the source. Osborne’s conflicting skills and qualities were on show during his interview on Today yesterday. He made a mistake in attacking the BBC throughout. The imagined bias of the BBC might attract sympathy from some Tory columnists, but listeners worried about the lack of growth will note a very early attempt at finding scapegoats. Yet Osborne also displayed empathic tonal range, and on the substance of this silly debate about whether he has a plan B he emphasised the flexibility built in to plan A. The debate is silly because no Chancellor can acknowledge an alternative route in advance (Indy).’
What I particularly enjoyed was the comparison between Osborne and GB. Osborne will hate this, and yet as I re-read just now, I thought yes, I can see a bit of that. Osborne, his allies gladly report, is something of a fan of TB, with whom he would love to be compared for his boldness, grasp of big picture, and strategic good sense; and not a fan at all of GB, a view much of which is born of the way he felt Gordon treated him when Osborne was but a shadow of his current self.
This image of Osborne as someone feigning indifference to his media profile, whilst all the while cultivating it, and having as a part of it the supposed indifference, is a rather interesting one. It has the ring of truth to it. Steve Richards is onto something. I would just like to thank him for providing the moment this morning when Osborne was flicking through his mountain of morning cuttings, baking in the warm glow of headlines that he could have written himself – ‘George Best’ indeed ho-hum – and suddenly coming across a column which compared him with Gordon. Oh he won’t have liked that, no, no, no.