They've been caught out, like the kid at school who buys a multipak of Valentine's cards, professing too much love. Not for The Little Red-Haired Girl (and all her mates), but for the English regions.
In the wake of the devastating floods around Christmas there has been a widespread disaffection out of London with the scale and speed of Whitehall's response. This reflects badly on the PM . So our unfortunate spinner was given the job of sending out a "personal" message from David Cameron to make clear the Prime Minister's grave concern.
A simple task, but they messed up. Why they messed up is the important lesson, and the reason goes far beyond party politics.
The sham was exposed by the Yorkshire Post, a sleeping giant of a regional title that seems to have found its voice in recent months. They were offered a first-person article, supposedly penned by the PM himself, which began with the words "I love Yorkshire and the Humber ..." and went on to explain why.
The difficulty is that a little digging by the YP's Tom Richmond found Dave to be a little .. promiscuous .. in his affections:
"The Herald, Plymouth’s newspaper, published a piece from Mr Cameron which began with the words “I love Cornwall and Isles of Scilly”.Daft, but trivial. Not a new ploy by any means - commercial organisations regularly produce sham stories supposedly highlighting the preferences of residents in one region that happen to mention the originator's bank, drink or chocolate bar once or twice in the copy. It's perhaps surprising that Number 10 should employ the same technique. As one fellow journo put it rather succinctly:
It did not end here. The Newcastle Chronicle carried a piece that started like this: “I love Northumberland.” And the same in the Lincolnshire Echo: “I love Lincolnshire.”
The familiar pattern did not end here. For his Cornish audience, the much-travelled PM wrote: “From their stunning beaches and coastal walks to their creative arts projects, this county is one of the many jewels in Great Britain’s crown.”
For the North East, it was this: “From Hadrian’s Wall to Europe’s biggest sky park, this county is one of the many jewels in Great Britain’s crown.”
For Lincolnshire, the PM declared: “From the quaint market towns to the rolling countryside, this county is one of the many jewels in Great Britain’s crown.”
Not sure which I find the more offensive; the PR strategy itself or No 10’s assumption it could get away with it! https://t.co/z2NFvG5Dhh— Paul Murphy (@BBCPaulMurphy) March 12, 2016
But then again, perhaps it isn't that surprising.
The Whitehall-centric brain doesn't think of the regions as real places at all. They are the "elsewhere".
These "regions" certainly don't talk to each other, any more than fictional characters relate to each other - Cathy and Heathcliff don't correspond with Tess of the d'Urbervilles, so why should Yorkshire be aware of Wessex? The typical TfL commuter wouldn't know which of Halifax, Bruddersford or Huddersfield was J B Priestley's creation - they are all names on a spreadsheet, notions in the imagination.
Someone should have smelled a rat, by the way, when Mr Cameron allegedly professed his love for "Yorkshire and the Humber". No-one in Yorkshire loves Yorkshire and the Humber. We love Yorkshire, and the beautiful Yorkshire coast is a huge part of that. Hull is a great city, and is City of Culture next year. I love Hull, but only a bureaucrat loves "The Humber" as an administrative region.
They thought they could get away with it. They thought Editors would be so flattered to be offered a piece from the PM they would publish, and be grateful.
This is nothing to do with the Tories, by the way. Labour or the Lib Dems could easily have dropped the same clanger. They have their differences over policy, but when in power they all live in the same bubble with the same common points of reference.
What's needed now, as a matter of urgency, is a new respect for the regions and a greater devolution of the machinery of government out of the South East. Only when the bubble is well and truly burst will we start to see a real affection for the regions.