'PR disaster' Miliband needs to reassess his whole communications approach

Today’s media are even less forgiving than they were 36 years ago - so Miliband will need to pick his battles

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If you were to Google ‘PR disaster’ the chances are that grinning awkwardly from the top of those rankings is a certain Labour leader.

It is not that Ed Miliband is losing the media debates on the big issues, but he’s certainly the politico most prone to the crude #PRFail hashtag; the ‘two kitchens’ fiasco last week proving another of Miliband’s ‘bacon sandwich’ moments.

To be fair, our Ed is up against it. With the UK’s two best-selling tabloids – The Sun and the Daily Mail – openly gunning for him, any pedestrian ‘photo opportunity’ is asking for trouble.

It is the opposite challenge to the one Margaret Thatcher faced in 1979. Thanks to the work of her media advisers, Gordon Reece and Tim Bell, The Sun and The Mail were slavish in their support. Knowing this, her team did plenty of the ‘in the kitchen’ stuff, but studiously kept Thatcher away from heavier BBC debates on the NHS or Education – they realised she would come across as bossy and overbearing compared to ‘Uncle Jim’ Callaghan.

This is where Miliband seems to lack PR strategy. Today’s media are even less forgiving than they were 36 years ago. The scrutiny is more instant, the attacks more vicious. Even more important, then, to pick your battles.

Authenticity also becomes crucial here. If you’re a well-off career politico, don’t get drawn into your ‘modest kitchen’.

And this, of course, is why David Cameron is obstinate in avoiding the TV debates. He knows well that his strength is appearing Prime Ministerial, not in sharing a conciliatory platform with opposition leaders.

Miliband may have accused Cameron of ‘chickening out’ in PM questions last week, but the latter’s team know that they can afford to lose this battle yet win the war. Wheeling out Tory peer, Michael Grade to criticise the broadcasters was just another way of reinforcing Cameron’s positioning as above the hurly-burly of this dirty media business.

Last week wasn’t just the latest tactical PR error for Miliband, it was a warning that he urgently needs to reassess his whole communications approach.