Boris Johnson facing questions over 'propaganda' video paid for with public money

Cabinet secretary urged to investigate whether film of new prime minister breaches strict rules on political neutrality

Benjamin Kentish
Political Correspondent
Friday 16 August 2019 16:30 BST
Boris Johnson's 'Vision for Britain' video

Boris Johnson is facing questions over a new government promotional video that opponents said may breach strict civil service impartiality rules.

Tom Watson, Labour’s deputy leader, said the film was a blatant election campaign video that should not be funded by taxpayers’ money.

Labour MP Wes Streeting has written to Sir Mark Sedwill, the cabinet secretary, to ask whether the video promoting the new prime minister is in line with guidelines that say official government communications must not be seen to endorse any political party.

The Ilford North MP said the video, released on Friday, resembled propaganda that had been “drafted by the Conservative Party’s communications team”.

Tom Watson, Labour’s deputy leader, is also understood to have raised concerns.

The video shows Mr Johnson speaking in Downing Street about his priorities as prime minister, including investing in policing, health and education. It is set to upbeat music and features sweeping images from around the UK and footage of Mr Johnson meeting members of the public - a style more typical of a party campaign video than an official government broadcast.

The film is marked with No10 branding and was tweeted from 10 Downing Street social media accounts, along with Mr Johnson’s personal accounts.

Mr Watson said: This is a blatant election campaign video from the Tory leader. Taxpayers should not be footing the bill for it.

Mr Streeting said civil service rules state that government videos posted on social media must be “objective and explanatory, not biased and polemical” and should not be open to interpretation “as being party political”.

In his letter to Sir Mark, seen by The Independent, Mr Streeting wrote: The proprietary guidance for the Government Communication Service makes it clear that all government communication through social media must be consistent with the civil service code and, in particular, states that it ‘should be objective and explanatory, not biased or polemical and that it ‘should not be or liable to be misrepresented as being party political’.

“I am not alone in thinking this video closely resembles something that could easily have been drafted by the Conservative Party’s communications team and I am concerned that it breaches civil service guidelines.”

He asked Sir Mark’s to clarify whether the video was consistent with the civil service guidelines , was produced entirely by civil servants without the input of Conservative Party officials and represented an appropriate use of taxpayers’ money.

The video marks a break from recent Downing Street clips, which generally showed Theresa May, Mr Johnson’s predecessor, talking directly to the camera, without background music or cutaway footage.

It was released amid mounting speculation that Mr Johnson could call a general election later this year.

A spokesperson for Mr Johnson declined to comment.

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