Beware love letters from Downing Street…

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NEWSPAPERS are often sent articles or features that can be slotted in without effort. Rather more often than you might imagine, such articles are written by the Prime Minister.

You might think he would have other things to do. You know, a country to run, an EU campaign to mastermind; you might think that keeping eye on Boris Johnson was occupation enough and never mind all the rabid other ‘outers’ in his own party. But there is always time to write a composite article for that bit of the country that means so very much to him (insert name here).

So it was last week that David Cameron put his name to an article in support of English Tourism Week, following Prince Charles urging families to visit flood-hit areas for their holidays.

This tick-box article began: “I love Yorkshire & the Humber” and then listed various reasons why the region was so attractive to visitors. This piece was described as “very personal” – and according to the Yorkshire Post, a Downing Street press officer rang to offer this heartfelt plea on behalf of Yorkshire at the very moment Mr Cameron could be seen on Sky News in talks with EU leaders over the migrant crisis in Turkey.

As the paper’s columnist Tom Richmond said on Saturday: “Was this multi-tasking at its very best?”

Many newspapers carried this article, including the one I used to work for. I make no judgement on their decision, except to say that it was cheering to read that the Yorkshire Post had decided not to print this piece of prime ministerial guff and puff (the description is mine, no theirs).

The Post rejected the allegedly personal column on the grounds that it was “formulaic, lacked empathy and only made passing reference to the misery caused by the Yorkshire floods”.

The traditionally Conservative-leaning Post published an open letter to David Cameron at the end of January, asking him to answer key questions about flooding policy in Yorkshire, and says it has received no reply. So when Mr Cameron’s tattered little article floated in they decided to spike it.

I wish more newspapers had done this. They should all have refused to print what Downing Street was offering; and they should maintain that stance whoever happens to be in power. In the unlikely event that Jeremy Corbyn becomes Prime Minister one day, newspapers should decline to print such articles from him too.

The Post’s refusal to print Mr Cameron’s article and then to boast about it may well have got up the noses of those newspapers who did decide to use it. But good on them. Tom Richmond’s column was receiving quite a bit of attention on Facebook and Twitter over the weekend, and was being shared by people who, it seemed, were not regular readers of the Post but supported their position.

Governments of all persuasion spend untold millions spinning this or that. Sometimes the spin is upfront and obvious – witness all the stories at the moment about what’s going to be in this week’s Budget; and sometimes it is more low-key, such as Mr Cameron’s love letter to Yorkshire & the Humber (and all those other places, too).

As those of us with an eye or two might have suspected, Mr Cameron is an inconstant admirer, and his love letters ended up being sent all over the country. We shouldn’t be surprised by this, as that’s the sort of thing politicians get up to. But we should be surprised that so many newspapers print this friendly seeming propaganda. Wouldn’t it be something if the Society of Editors decreed that in future none of its members would sully newsprint with such cynical nonsense from Downing Street?

Apart from anything else, it would show some respect for their readers, who might not even know that such ‘highly personal’ letters are nothing of the sort.


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