The Sound of Radio Silence: Liz Truss Hits the Local Airwaves

If Liz Truss and her PR advisers thought that local radio would give her a much easier ride than national news programmes, then they were sorely mistaken. 

Breaking her silence after four days of turmoil in the financial markets prompted by Friday’s mini-Budget (which saw the IMF call on the government to reverse its tax-cutting plans, the Bank of England make an emergency intervention to prevent a run on pension funds, interest rates shoot up, mortgage deals withdrawn, and sterling collapse to record lows), Truss gave her first media interviews to eight BBC radio stations across the country yesterday morning. 

Allocated just five minutes each to grill the Prime Minister, and determined to reflect the concerns, fears and fury felt by their listeners, the presenters wasted no time in going for the jugular, contrary to the patronising suggestions by certain media commentators that local radio interviews would be a soft option. 

From Radio Leeds’ opener, “Where’ve you been?”, to a Radio Nottingham listener’s claims that tax cuts were “like a reverse Robinhood”, Radio Teesside’s questioning about dead crabs washing up on local shores, to Radio Lancashire’s focus on fracking, Truss faced a gruelling series of bruising interviews on a range of subjects dear to local radio listeners’ hearts. 

Determined to stick to her key messages and defend last Friday’s “fiscal event”, Truss would not accept any responsibility for Britain’s economic crisis, laying the blame squarely on Vladimir Putin. Sometimes she refused to accept the premise of questioning or simply avoided answering the question altogether. Hesitant and robotic in her delivery, at one stage she was lost for words for almost four seconds while attempting to justify her economic policies to Radio Stoke. It made for painful listening. 

“An utter shitshow”, “brutal”, “gaslighting” and “blind to reality” were just some of the reactions to her car crash interviews from media commentators and MPs across the political divide.

As The Guardian pointed out, the “PM’s eight short interviews produced more news than a typical slot on Radio 4’s Today programme”. 

Whatever you think about Truss and Kwarteng’s dogged devotion to trickle-down economics, the episode shows the importance of communication in averting and handling a crisis (although Truss’s team, of course, deny that it is a crisis). 

While Truss is by no means a natural communicator, there are still some fundamental principles that she, and her team, should observe: 

  • Be prepared – don’t launch a new initiative until you’re ready, then provide a thorough and timely briefing of the policy or strategy, backed up by sound evidence, and plan for tough questioning. 
  • Don’t shy away from or delay giving media interviews – a head-in-the-sand mentality simply compounds the crisis, giving the impression of arrogance, complacency or ineptitude. Or all three. But – crucially, as above – be prepared. 
  • Know your audience – be aware of and ensure you can respond to the wide range of issues that might arise, particularly when giving local media interviews. 
  • Show empathy – acknowledge, listen and respond to people’s very real concerns, rather than regurgitating scripted answers that evade the question. 
  • Don’t be afraid to admit when you’ve got it wrong, take ownership, and adjust your strategy accordingly, rather than claiming everything is going to plan despite clear evidence to the contrary. 

Truss – who lest we forget was put in power by a mere 0.17% of British voters – now finds herself alienating not just the markets and the public, including many in the crucial Red Wall constituencies, but a large number of Tory MPs too – among them some of her supporters at the recent leadership contest. 

Unsurprisingly, Labour is riding high in the polls, positioning itself as the party of economic competence. 

With the term ‘fin de siècle vibes’ reportedly being bandied about Westminster, Truss will need all the communications skills she can muster if she, and her party, have any chance of surviving this self-inflicted crisis of confidence and leadership.

By Sarah Peters

Friday 30th September 2022

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Dominic Cummings: The Source of Boris’s Problems

Dominic Cummings has been hell-bent on staying in the public’s eye through his continuing campaign to pick apart Boris Johnson’s political career, slice by slice. However, should the mainstream media be giving such primetime limelight to accusations from a man who holds such a personal vendetta against the PM that any statement he makes is smeared in bitterness? 

Dominic Cummings has been drip-feeding his blogged claims to the nation’s journalists ever since he left No. 10, slamming the brakes and, knowingly through the media as a proxy, halting the government and the country from moving forward towards some sense of normality. Whilst holding the government and the prime minister to account is an honourable necessity of any functioning modern society, it does feel like there is a danger of slipping into the pedantic and petty. The public is left with contemplating the difference between a party and a gathering, which all feels rather paltry in comparison to the mounting possibility of a Russian invasion of Ukraine looming on the eastern horizon. 

Of course, the wider question emerging is Boris’ integrity and whether he lied to Parliament – which is indeed significant stuff. But are we really going to let Cummings derail the current Government, if not now then later, such is his determination to dethrone and cause reputational damage to Boris Johnson, not to mention Carrie Symonds? What would that do to Cummings cause celebre – the Brexit project?

What are the lessons to be learned?

That leaders and high-profile individuals have enemies and vulnerabilities the media love to exploit. The old adage keep your friends close and enemies closer springs to mind. That relationship fall-outs between leaders and their advisers/co-workers can become highly distracting, circus-like, and sometimes so toxic that they overshadow the main act, to mutually devastating effect.  The public interest is only maintained for a limited time. Then the desire to get rid of all protagonists is overwhelming, meaning neither side prevails. 

That the media can be a very powerful estate. Their agenda influences public opinion, customer behaviour and regularly makes or breaks careers.

We’ll soon see if wounded Boris manages to limp on next week. Meantime we can’t help thinking that his choice of co-workers is another failing to which we should have been wiser, and whether Dominic should have been made to sign an enforceable NDA. That said, employment lawyers remind us no agreement would prevent the reporting of criminal allegations. Dominic might not be so easily put back in his bottle.  Grab the popcorn once more.

Declan Flahive, 28/01/2021

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