Gravy Train: HS2 Awards Contracts to 17 PR Agencies

The taxpayer is funding a preposterous 17 (seventeen!) PR agencies to provide communications advice to HS2, the Department for Transport have disclosed in response to a parliamentary question. The 17 comms firms which have been paid by the taxpayer to spin for the beleaguered project are:

JBP Associates, Blue Rubicon, MHP Communications, Brand and Deliver, Brandnew, M-is, Precedent Communications, Crown Business Communications, PRgloo, Booz & Company, SKV Communications, Emergn, Stairway Communications, Gorkana, Hopscotch Consulting, Weber Shandwick, Westbourne Communications

12 other consultancy and production firms have also been handed lucrative contracts:

JBP Associates, ATK Productions, Future Thinking, NLA Media Access, NTA Monitor, Consultation Institute, Dialogue by Design, Elro Associates, Emergn, The Edge Picture Company, The Skills Show, Tomboy Films

Why does the taxpayer need to fund all these companies when not a rail on the HS2 line has yet been laid? Why does HS2 possibly need 17 taxpayer-funded spin shops? Know they are getting bad press but come on…

May Launches “Plan For Britain” After Another Day of Dire Headlines

What do you do when your Chancellor is fighting for his political life and 13 of your MPs are facing CPS charging decisions and the possibility of election re-runs? What about throwing down the gauntlet to Nicola Sturgeon at lunchtime by rejecting IndyRef2, and then at tea time launching your “Plan for Britain”. Here it is…

UPDATE: Plan For Britain site down. Unfortunate. 

Hammond: Laura K First to Say NI Rise Broke Manifesto Pledge

Philip Hammond tells Alex Salmond the first person outside the chamber to say he had broken the Tory manifesto pledge on National Insurance was the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg. An extraordinary statement – and one which Hammond is defending by arguing disingenuously that the NI didn’t breach the manifesto. Did Downing Street really not realise this would be an issue? Friends of George Osborne say they immediately knew it would be a breach of manifesto when they saw this Times story on a possible NICs rise back on 1 March. Hammond leaving himself open to complete ridicule…

Leaked Burnham Draft Manifesto Reveals Made-Up Stories About Women

Guido has obtained Andy Burnham’s draft manifesto for the Manchester mayoral election, which is set to be unveiled tomorrow. The section above is particularly moving, telling the tragic stories of a woman “who found it difficult to find work and was forced to take up a zero-hours contract”, as well as another woman “who had her retirement plans ruined and has now lost her independence”. All very unfortunate. Just one problem: these stories are not real and the women do not exist. Despite the apparently personalised stories, there are no names in the draft text, instead the letters “XXX” appear as Team Burnham try to find women who fit the gloomy narrative. Struggling to find case studies for their tales of woe? 

For those interested, here is the draft manifesto in full:

Downing Street: Article 50 Triggered at “End” of March

So much for all those newspaper stories guesstimating that Article 50 would be triggered tomorrow – a “government source” is briefing various political editors that it won’t happen this week or next. A Number 10 spokesman claims they always said it would be at the “END” of March, their capital letters. (They’ve actually previously said “by the end”). Was this the plan all along? Or bounced into it by Sturgeon this morning?

Senior Leavers: No.10 Must Prepare Public For WTO Brexit

Senior Leave figures want the government to do much more to publicly prepare the public for a Brexit on WTO terms. Theresa May’s speech in January arguing that “no deal is better than a bad deal” pleased Tory Leavers, but they fear not enough has been done by Downing Street to prevent continuity Remainers seizing the narrative and convincing the public that WTO terms would be a disaster. This is why over the weekend Boris Johnson, David Davis and Liam Fox all came out and made encouraging noises about the possibility of no deal. 

There are three reasons why Leavers want Number 10 to do more to make the WTO case. First, the chances of a Brexit along WTO lines are much higher than the government publicly admits. While the official line is that no deal is “unlikely“, behind the scenes senior figures in Number 10 have said they put the probability at around 30%. Most Leavers think this figure is optimistic. Another government source tells Guido they believe the likelihood of a WTO Brexit is 50-50.

Second, demonstrating that WTO terms are acceptable is vital for the negotiation. If Brussels believes Britain thinks WTO rules are a disaster, the threat to walk away is not credible. Going into the negotiation without being happy to accept WTO terms is obviously the worst possible negotiating hand. A Whitehall source says: “People are being told that WTO rules would be the end of the world. We need to explain to them why it isn’t”.

Third, Leavers want to learn the lesson from Cameron’s failure to make any contingency planning for Brexit. This is seen by the government as Cameron’s worst betrayal – Leavers are determined not to repeat the mistake. This means proper preparations for a WTO Brexit, both in terms of contingency planning in Whitehall and preparing the public for that outcome. Matt Ridley’s piece in today’s Times is the sort of narrative Number 10 should be pursuing…

Number 10 Blaming Number 11, Number 11 Blaming Number 10

Treasury sources tell Newsnight’s Nick Watt that “Number 10 just wants to spend money” and that “some of the senior political advisers around the Prime Minister have anti-Tory ideas about raising taxes”. They say Hammond had to fight against May and claim she wanted to raise Capital Gains Tax and NICs for higher-rate taxpayers. Meanwhile there is pushback from Number 10 in the Times, which quotes a source saying of Team Hammond: “They just forgot the manifesto”. Trouble…

Treasury Spin Falls Apart

The Treasury is shamelessly spinning that the Tory manifesto commitment on National Insurance only referred to Class 1 NICs, not Class 4. This is untrue. There is no mention of Class 1 or Class 4 NICs in the Tory manifesto, it says very clearly in black and white that there will be no increases to National Insurance whatsoever. As Tom Watson says, they must have put the words “Class 1” in invisible ink. The Treasury won’t be getting away with spinning these alternative facts…

Corbyn Blames Tax Row on Media / Cabinet Office Conspiracy

It has been a long day of spin, claim and counter claim, rebuttal and pre-buttal, three on-the-record statements, multiple off-the-record briefings and questions to three government departments. Finally Jeremy Corbyn has tried to clear up his tax return, sort of. Guido takes you through it, blow by blow…

9pm last night: Journalists first began to query whether Jeremy Corbyn’s tax return included his salary as Leader of the Opposition. Corbyn’s team did not provide an answer.

1am this morning: Corbyn’s team released a statement explaining that he included his LOTO payments in the pensions and benefits section, rather than the employment section. They did not say why.

9am this morning: It emerged that the government’s accounts show a different figure for his LOTO earnings, and say it is a “salary“. Corbyn’s team did not have an explanation for the discrepancy.

3pm this afternoon: Corbyn’s team explain the discrepancy in a new statement: “This figure is calculated after deducting the waivers Jeremy has made of earlier increases to the benefit… A parliamentary pension contribution of £3,395 was also deducted”. They blame the Cabinet Office for not clearing it up and offshore media owners for having ulterior motives:

“The owners of the media companies that have attempted to cast doubt over Jeremy’s transparent and accurate tax return are of course among those who could stand to lose from the tax transparency and justice the British people demand. Jeremy believes firmly in transparency. These media barons have tax questions of their own to answer.”

Interesting conspiracy, or could it just be that Corbyn’s team didn’t understand the numbers and it took them 18 hours to work it out?

Diane Abbott’s Trumpian Tax Denial

This tweet from Diane Abbott is positively Trumpian. She says it is “wrong” that Corbyn bungled his tax return. To be clear, he declared his Leader of the Opposition salary in the pensions and state benefits section. Tax accountants agree this is bizarre and unorthodox, and there is no explanation from his team why it was declared like this. Diane says the media did not read Corbyn’s return properly. No – journalists asked Corbyn’s office for an explanation, they were unable to provide one for several hours. And they are still unable to answer the outstanding questions

UPDATE: Statement from Labour six hours later.

Clive Lewis: “None of This is True. I Haven’t Done This”

Much excitement following the HuffPo report that four websites, cliveforleader.co.uk, cliveforleader.org.uk, cliveforlabour.co.uk and cliveforlabour.org.uk, had been registered on 29 June last year. The story took off when Lewis stupidly gave HuffPo a flowery statement quoting LBJ, which was immediately interpreted as a non-denial. He has now flat out denied the story to the Guardian:

“None of this is true. I haven’t done this.”

It would be pretty extraordinarily thick of Lewis to register these sites in his own name. Let alone two days after he was appointed as Shadow Defence Secretary. Much more likely a scheming Labour enemy did it with the aim of doing him in. Guido can disclose that junior Corbynistas had been excitedly talking about the alleged Lewis websites for days before the story broke…

Corbyn’s New Spinner Worked For Copeland ‘Baby Killers’

Jeremy Corbyn’s new spin doctor is a lobbyist whose firm works for the Cumbria Success Regime, the controversial NHS programme which Labour said would kill babies in Copeland. Steve Howell, Jezza’s new Deputy Director of Strategy and Communications, is founder and director at PR company Freshwater. Their latest company accounts lists the Cumbria Success Regime among their top ten clients:

The Cumbria Success Regime was appointed by the government to overhaul healthcare services in Copeland. It recommended moving maternity services away from West Cumberland Hospital in Whitehaven, provoking outcry from Labour and inspiring the party’s infamous “babies will die” posters during the by-election. And now Corbyn has hired the man whose firm did their PR. Spin that…

Médecins Sans Frontières Objects to ‘Sans Frontières’ Name of Crisis PR Firm

Political publishers Dods Group last year made a small £800,000 profit after years of multi-million pound losses. This was achieved largely by Guy Cleaver halving the bloated sales and marketing headcount down from 119 to 57. Dods celebrated their new found profitability by moving out of their Mayfair offices and into the Shard. Inconveniently situated 20 minutes away from SW1 in SE1.

Dods is lending almost all of that last year’s profits in an unusual investment. It has subscribed for 40% of the issued share capital of Sans Frontieres Associates for a nominal sum and lent it £700,000 to provide initial working capital. Sans Frontieres Associates is chaired by Tim Bell and will do PR and comms work in war stricken hotspots.

Dods reckon that:

“Jonathan Lehrle, CEO and founder has a strong vision for his organisation and the objective to redefine the approach taken to international geopolitical and crisis communications consulting. His vision for his company’s core capabilities and international reach is in keeping with the trends and changing market requirements seen by the Board of Dods.”

The respected NGO Médecins Sans Frontières is less happy. Here’s their spokeswoman Polly Markandya:

“We’d be in the same corridors – us trying to negotiate for humanitarian access and them negotiating PR contracts. It’s too close for comfort. Surely, with their creative brains, they can think of another good name for their venture.”

Other people who wondering about the new comms agency are Dods’ own clients, the comms firms who subscribe to their monitoring services and read their Public Affairs News* magazine. Many may be less than keen on paying monthly subscriptions to their competitor…

*Strangely Guido can not find any mention in Public Affairs News of the launch of Sans Frontieres Associates or the involvement of PA luminaries like Tim Bell and Darren Murphy. Fancy that…

Labour Double Down on “Babies Will Die” Attack

Last week Labour sent out leaflets claiming “babies will die” if Copeland votes Tory, today they have ramped it up a notch with the slightly unhinged poster above. Not the sort of campaigning you’d expect from a party on course for victory…

Labour’s Copeland Candidate: 3 Days to Save the NHS

You know Labour are in trouble when they wheel out this tired line. Asked for her message to voters in Copeland, Labour’s candidate Gillian Troughton replied: “Three days to save the NHS in West Cumbria”. Borrowing from Andy Burnham’s famous 2011 fib that there were “72 hours to save the NHS”.[…] Read the rest

+ READ MORE +

Team Corbyn Tweeting About Fake News Trump Style

Late last night this Mirror story triggered Seumas or someone else on the Labour leader’s media team. For the full Trump effect they really need to capitalise FAKE NEWS from the FAILING MIRROR. Guido gives ’em 5/10 for this effort…[…] Read the rest

+ READ MORE +

“Tory Cuts Killed 30,000” Report Author is Big Corbynista

Today’s Mirror splashes on the OTT claim that “Tory cuts killed 30,000“, casually accusing the government of mass murder. The story is based on a report co-authored by Oxford geography professor Danny Dorling. What the Mirror doesn’t mention is that Dorling a big Corbyn cheerleader with ties to Jez.[…] Read the rest

+ READ MORE +

New Tory Attack Ad on Nuttall

The Tories are releasing this attack video on Paul Nuttall this afternoon. Giving Labour a helping hand in Stoke to save Jez?[…] Read the rest

+ READ MORE +

Nuttall Made “Close Personal Friends” Claim in 2011 As Well

Paul Nuttall’s press officer offered her resignation over the “close personal friends” claim she is said to have written on his website in 2012. Yet that was not the only time Nuttall’s name was associated with those words. In August 2011 the BBC quoted him making the same claim – apparently taken from his press release:

So twice Nuttall’s team wrote statements claiming he had “close personal friends” at Hillsborough, and one of them was published by the BBC.[…] Read the rest

+ READ MORE +

James Slack New PM’s Spokesman

Daily Mail political editor James Slack has been appointed as the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesperson. You read it here first… […] Read the rest

+ READ MORE +



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