• Author:Ben Jones
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How not to communicate government policy, by Jo Johnson

After spending several minutes shouting at the radio and sighing loudly yesterday – sadly not an unusual occurrence when listening, as I do each morning, to the Today Programme – I was hoping for a quiet breakfast this morning. Unfortunately, I happened without the appearance of Universities Minister, Jo Johnson.

The Minister was giving us a sneak preview – heavily briefed to the media in advance – of his speech today to University Vice Chancellors in which he was making some reasonable points about transparency and public confidence in this hugely important institutions. Sadly, he feel into a deep and ugly communications trap – defining your message in the negative. He spoke on Radio 4 and then again astonishingly in his speech which was covered on TV news – and set his comments about Vice Chancellor’s salaries in context. He didn’t want to keep reading about them in the media. Good grief.

Let’s talk policy first.

What a way to articulate government policy. What an appalling admission of what passes as success for this government minister; not reading about something in the media. Was it honesty or naivety? Who cares, it was pitiful. A pitiful reason to make a change in government policy. Surely policy should be made to deliver some public good, some long term benefit to the country and society. Policy should not be made to reduce some short term indigestion from awkward newspaper headlines.

Incidentally, the idea that someone who runs a multi-million pound organisation, employing tens of thousands of people, servicing even more paying customers, contributing to the knowledge and skills of the country, the growth and jobs of the country and the exports and prestige of the country should have to explain why they earn more than the prime minister is as risible as it is laughable. I support transparency – public bodies like universities publishing salaries of senior staff – but attacking the excellence of UK universities, including Oxford – just announced as the best university in the world – by attacking the pay of its CEO is frankly pathetic.

Let’s talk communications. To have such a dreadful position in the first place is the first big problem but then to articulate it in such a negative, downbeat, low energy way made matters worse. What happened to telling a story? What happened to inspiring the public? What happened to being positive?

This latest tone deaf, bandwagon jumping, backward looking, ambition and excellence hating, anti-market, pro-mediocrity, excuse for communication messages exposes the drift and mess this government embodies. If I had just read the statement today without its author named I would have assumed this was a politics of envy statement from Jeremy Corbyn or Momentum; not the Conservative Party. The party I have been a member of for 25 years but find as each day passes less and less reason to want to continue down that path.


Photo taken from BBC news website: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/education-41184857/jo-johnson-calls-for-restraint-in-university-pay

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