Ministers queue to give the public 'good news': The Government has cranked up its publicity machine

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The Independent Online
DOWNING STREET appears to have developed an unstoppable appetite for good news, that generally scarce commodity recently extolled by the BBC newsreader Martyn Lewis but comprehensively scorned by the rest of the journalistic trade.

The Prime Minister's Office had let it be known in advance that reporters would not face an idle August. But in the effort, presumably, to offset one of grimmest Parliamentary sessions in recent memory, this summer's news management operation has exceeded normal expectations.

It goes without saying that the stream of 'news' issuing from numerous government departments is considered 'good', or at least is presented as such.

The wily John MacGregor, Secretary of State for Transport, appears to top the list of ministers mopping up the publicity from the relative comfort of the Commons recess.

His latest score was yesterday's generally well received move to penalise aggressive young drivers. Last week, he managed to present the go-ahead for 44-ton lorries as good news for the rail freight industry.

Two other departments also had a slice of the action yesterday, as the Department of Employment hailed its 'dole' cheat clampdown and the Ministry of Agriculture announced new environment incentives to stop farmers wrecking the countryside.

The supply of worthy information and ministerial talking heads to deliver it seems endless.

A radio turn on age discrimination was even taken last week by Ann Widdecombe, the Under-Secretary of State for Employment, not formerly associated with caring Conservatism, while at the weekend John Major unconventionally selected the News of the World as a vehicle to deliver a warning about targeting welfare.

Virginia Bottomley, the Secretary of State for Health, who is thought good at it, staged an appearance on Any Questions on the Isle of Wight where she was conveniently resident in her holiday home. Tomorrow, she launches a 10-point mental health plan for supervising people returned to the community.

Astute news presenters know the value of the so-called 'Sunday for Monday' press release - the art of getting boring material into newspapers before the week hots up. Government departments eschew the practice but with the release of benefits statistics this Sunday, the Department of Social Security will buck the tradition.

As to whether cranking the publicity machine to such a pitch is a good thing for the Government, the answer is likely to be yes. Even given the inevitability of some adverse comment, any news is probably better than no news.