The UK coalition government’s white paper on public service reform has gotten lukewarm reviews even from presumably friendly quarters such as The Economist and the FT. Putting aside substance for a moment and looking at the roll out of the policy, one thing that clearly did not help can be seen here. As Minister Letwin introduced the policy and answered questions in the House of Commons, members of his own party — including at one point a justly respected front bencher — could be seen on television tapping away on their Blackberries. C-Span addicts will recall similar scenes in the U.S. Congress: Cabinet secretaries testify earnestly whilst the staff behind them stare straight into handheld devices, pecking away madly at the keys, which are apparently far more interesting than anything their boss is saying.
When Mike Deaver told me that in televised political events, the image is almost everything, I told him that I wanted to believe he was wrong but knew he was right. Little things like a background audience conveying boredom as a policy position is described really shouldn’t matter, but they do. How do experienced political handlers who sweat over every syllable of their bosses’ long planned speeches not spend a moment contemplating the variable that will be more far more influential than any of the uttered words: “Who will be in the TV frame with him, and what will they be doing?”.