This week's PR-speak fail: George Entwistle

The new BBC director general.

Considering the BBC is one of the best-funded communications companies in the world, its upper management has no excuse for some of the dreadful crimes it has commited against the English language. Take the ongoing project to take 16 per cent off the organisation's running costs by cutting thousands of jobs. Now they could hardly call it "slash and burn" but "delivering quality first"? Really?

First impressions are that the new BBC director general, George Entwistle, will be delivering more of the same spiel. Following his first address to all his staff, I for one was left scratching my head as to what he was going on about. Here was what he had to say about the journalism side of the BBC operation:

The progress news and sport have made in testing the boundaries of our existing content forms suggest to me that genre structures pool expertise and challenge conventional thinking to the right degree.

Where is a BBC management-speak phrase book when you need one? 

Now, I realise that Entwistle probably doesn't write this stuff himself but you would think that somewhere in the BBC's vast PR operation there was someone trained in the art of putting one word in front of another.

The next day, Entwistle told John Hymphrys on the Today programme that one of his core aims was to increase creativity by 20 per cent. Isn't that a bit like saying everyone needs to have 13 per cent more fun and come up with programmes that are 7 per cent edgier and 14 per cent  more original?

Fingers crossed news reporters don't take the demand to be more creative too literally. Because not mentioning any names, that didn't turn out too well for the BBC once before.

Dominic Ponsford is the editor of Press Gazette.

Photograph: Getty Images

Dominic Ponsford is editor of Press Gazette

Photo: Getty
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PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn prompts Tory outrage as he blames Grenfell Tower fire on austerity

To Conservative cries of "shame on you!", the Labour leader warned that "we all pay a price in public safety" for spending cuts.

A fortnight after the Grenfell Tower fire erupted, the tragedy continues to cast a shadow over British politics. Rather than probing Theresa May on the DUP deal, Jeremy Corbyn asked a series of forensic questions on the incident, in which at least 79 people are confirmed to have died.

In the first PMQs of the new parliament, May revealed that the number of buildings that had failed fire safety tests had risen to 120 (a 100 per cent failure rate) and that the cladding used on Grenfell Tower was "non-compliant" with building regulations (Corbyn had asked whether it was "legal").

After several factual questions, the Labour leader rose to his political argument. To cries of "shame on you!" from Tory MPs, he warned that local authority cuts of 40 per cent meant "we all pay a price in public safety". Corbyn added: “What the tragedy of Grenfell Tower has exposed is the disastrous effects of austerity. The disregard for working-class communities, the terrible consequences of deregulation and cutting corners." Corbyn noted that 11,000 firefighters had been cut and that the public sector pay cap (which Labour has tabled a Queen's Speech amendment against) was hindering recruitment. "This disaster must be a wake-up call," he concluded.

But May, who fared better than many expected, had a ready retort. "The cladding of tower blocks did not start under this government, it did not start under the previous coalition governments, the cladding of tower blocks began under the Blair government," she said. “In 2005 it was a Labour government that introduced the regulatory reform fire safety order which changed the requirements to inspect a building on fire safety from the local fire authority to a 'responsible person'." In this regard, however, Corbyn's lack of frontbench experience is a virtue – no action by the last Labour government can be pinned on him. 

Whether or not the Conservatives accept the link between Grenfell and austerity, their reluctance to defend continued cuts shows an awareness of how politically vulnerable they have become (No10 has announced that the public sector pay cap is under review).

Though Tory MP Philip Davies accused May of having an "aversion" to policies "that might be popular with the public" (he demanded the abolition of the 0.7 per cent foreign aid target), there was little dissent from the backbenches – reflecting the new consensus that the Prime Minister is safe (in the absence of an attractive alternative).

And May, whose jokes sometimes fall painfully flat, was able to accuse Corbyn of saying "one thing to the many and another thing to the few" in reference to his alleged Trident comments to Glastonbury festival founder Michael Eavis. But the Labour leader, no longer looking fearfully over his shoulder, displayed his increased authority today. Though the Conservatives may jeer him, the lingering fear in Tory minds is that they and the country are on divergent paths. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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