Boris Johnson is accused of funding ‘expensive government propaganda’

Boris Johnson was today accused of funding ‘expensive government propaganda’ after unveiling a dramatic trailer for a 30-minute film entitled ‘A Beacon of Hope: The UK Vaccine Story’. 

Slickly-produced and set to dramatic music, the 50-second preview clip features interviews with government scientific advisers including Jonathan Van-Tam, Sir Patrick Vallance and Chris Whitty.

Critics accused Number 10 of wasting time and taxpayers’ money touting the programme rather than focusing on promoting public health or giving nurses a bigger pay rise – while others sarcastically asked if they could expect another film about Test and Trace. 

Downing Street insisted the cost of the video cannot be disclosed because it was put together in-house and there was no additional spending beyond existing salaries and equipment. 

However, there are questions about why ministers now appear to have a full production team on staff. Last spring the government recruited several roles for a video team, on salaries around £40,000.

Their duties included ‘taking video to the next level in government to reach new and underserved audiences’. 

Ministers have come under fire for their PR efforts in recent months, with Chancellor Rishi Sunak producing an expensive-looking pre-Budget video featuring 134 images of himself and No10 using taxpayer-funded photographers for an Instagram-style photoshoot of Mr Johnson’s dog Dilyn. 

The video came a week after Mr Sunak shared a one-on-one Zoom chat with celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay to discuss the future of the restaurant industry, which was slammed as ‘tone-deaf’ by chefs who questioned whether the multi-millionaire was an authority on the impact on small businesses. 

Meanwhile, Number 10 has also drawn criticism for employing three ‘vanity’ photographers to snap images of ministers and Downing Street pets, which are then circulated via official social media accounts. 

And it emerged last week that £2.6million has been spent on preparing the facilities for televised press briefings by the PM’s spokeswoman Allegra Stratton, which have yet to get started. 

Critics accused Number 10 of wasting time and taxpayers’ money touting the programme rather than focusing on promoting public health or giving nurses a bigger pay rise – while others sarcastically asked if they could expect another film about Test and Trace. Another Twitter user jokingly referred it to a North Korean propaganda broadcast 

Downing Street sources insisted no new staff have been brought in for the vaccine video. 

They said the film will be a ‘thank you to all the people in the vaccine effort’, as well as ‘encouraging more people to come forward and get vaccinated’. 

‘It will tell the story of how we got here and remind people about the steps we have taken to make sure it is safe and effective,’ a source said. 

Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey told The Times: ‘I’m sure that many people will wonder why the prime minister is more concerned about producing expensive government propaganda than paying nurses properly.’

Angela Rayner MP, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party said: ‘Sorry for the spoiler, but we already know the plot twist will be the Prime Minister choosing to cut the pay of the same nurses delivering the vaccine to the British people, while handing out billions in contracts to Conservative Party donors and cronies.’ 

Twitter user Sarah Murphy added: ‘There is something truly obscene about the government putting out a self-congratulatory propaganda piece on the vaccine.

‘On the back of such negligence, such tragedy. If they respected us at all, their unforgivable failures would weigh too heavily on them to do this.’

Asked by Good Morning Britain’s Ben Shepherd whether the film was the best use of public money, Business Minister Paul Scully said: ‘What is does is thank all the people involved in the vaccination programme. It doesn’t celebrate government, it celebrates partnership. 

‘Yes there was government investment to back our scientists but it’s the scientists themselves, the universities, working with the private sector, working with the NHS and all the volunteers who have made it all happen.’

In response to a question about nurses’ pay, Mr Scully said: ‘The politicking around it is really unfortunate – there was an independent pay review body that looked at this..’ 

Sir Patrick Vallance, who is Chief Scientific Adviser, said in his interview: 'Most vaccines don't make it, they fall over at some point along the way'

Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer for England, said: 'We were not absolutely confident at all that any vaccine would be possible'

Sir Patrick Vallance, who is Chief Scientific Adviser, said in his interview: ‘Most vaccines don’t make it, they fall over at some point along the way’

The official documentary revealed yesterday is called: 'A Beacon of Hope: The UK Vaccine Story'

The official documentary revealed yesterday is called: ‘A Beacon of Hope: The UK Vaccine Story’

The film was made within Number 10 - MailOnline has asked how many civil servants were tasked with its production, how long it took them, and the total cost in hours worked

The film was made within Number 10 – MailOnline has asked how many civil servants were tasked with its production, how long it took them, and the total cost in hours worked

‘We were on a mission’: What government scientists say in the trailer 

Prof Van-Tam, Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England, said in the trailer: ‘Back in March, we’re heading into lockdown. The NHS is coming under extreme pressure.

‘We were on a mission, and the mission was to get vaccines for the UK. It’s just a colossal effort that I don’t think people will realise has happened behind the scenes.’

Sir Patrick, who is Chief Scientific Adviser, said in his interview: ‘Most vaccines don’t make it, they fall over at some point along the way.’

He later added: ‘Extraordinary, unexpected, fantastic – it was one day of real joy and thinking, yes, there’s a way out of this.’

And Mr Whitty, Chief Medical Officer for England, said: ‘We were not absolutely confident at all that any vaccine would be possible.’ 

The trailer also includes a flashback clip of Prime Minister Boris Johnson telling the country: ‘You must stay at home.’  

In the film, Professor Van-Tam describes Britain as having been ‘on a mission’ to make a vaccine, while Sir Patrick speaks about the ‘extraordinary, unexpected, fantastic’ achievement. 

The short film was promoted on Twitter by the Prime Minister’s official @10DowningStreet Twitter account and on his Facebook page. 

The release date has not yet been confirmed, but the @10DowningStreet Twitter account said it was ‘coming soon’ after posting the trailer about 3pm yesterday.

The idea for the show is said to have come about in No10 ‘after the broadcasters showed little interest in telling the story themselves’, according to the Spectator. 

But, referring to the NHS pay dispute, shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds tweeted: ‘Is the twist that the Conservatives cut the pay of the people delivering the vaccine?’

Lib Dem peer Chris Rennard tweeted: ‘Billions wasted on Test and Trace, taxpayers funding Conservative propaganda, but they won’t pay nurses what they were promised.’ 

The advert was also criticised and lampooned by other social media users, who posted a series of memes of people looking unimpressed.

One tweeted an image of Mr Johnson and wrote: ‘This success with the NHS vaccine program doesn’t outweigh his ‘apparent success’ with Covid.

‘Quick to claim the credit but finds it impossible to take the blame he’s culpable for our worst death toll and no UNDESERVED headlines change that.’

Another tweeted: ‘Money for this and £37billion for a failed track and trace system but not for nurses? Really? You really are obnoxious and out of touch with reality.’ 

And a third said: ‘A Beacon of Hope in an otherwise s*** storm of failure and incompetence.

‘But hey, you make a little marketing video and convince yourself that you’re great. I look forward to the video explaining how the failed test and trace system cost us £32billion.’

The government has come under fire for its publicity efforts in recent months, with Chancellor Rishi Sunak producing an expensive-looking video featuring 134 images of himself before the Budget

The government has come under fire for its publicity efforts in recent months, with Chancellor Rishi Sunak producing an expensive-looking video featuring 134 images of himself before the Budget  

Mr Sunak's pre-Budget promotional video clocked in at almost six minutes long and features clips from an informal sit down interview cut with footage of him in the Commons and out on official visits

Mr Sunak’s pre-Budget promotional video clocked in at almost six minutes long and features clips from an informal sit down interview cut with footage of him in the Commons and out on official visits

The Chancellor also faced the fury of people working in pubs, bars and restaurants over his online chat with multi-millionaire F-Word star, which was filmed by Government media.

The Chancellor also faced the fury of people working in pubs, bars and restaurants over his online chat with multi-millionaire F-Word star, which was filmed by Government media.

Mr Sunak’s pre-Budget promotional video clocked in at almost six minutes long and features clips from an informal sit down interview cut with footage of him in the Commons and out on official visits.

It also shows all of the financial support initiatives brought forward by the Treasury during the coronavirus crisis and sets everything against an orchestral soundtrack.

The clip included 134 images of the chancellor, while the music used in the first few seconds costs almost £400 to licence for a national online ad campaign, according to the Mirror. 

The glossy video came just a week after Mr Sunak posted a one-on-one Zoom chat with celebrity chef and TV game show host Gordon Ramsay on official Government channels.

The Chancellor faced the fury of people working in pubs, bars and restaurants over his online chat with multi-millionaire F-Word star.

Hospitality has been one of the hardest-hit sectors of the economy since last March, with repeated lockdowns and restrictions on opening at other times.

Mr Sunak posed a tweet which said the two men discussed ‘the challenges facing hospitality and how he launched a TV show in lockdown’.

In a video later released, Mr Ramsay, who is spending lockdown at one of his homes in Cornwall, said his brand was ‘a standard bearer for the industry’.

Boris Johnson has been accused of using taxpayer money to fund a vanity project after Downing Street released images of an Instagram-style photoshoot of his dog playing in the snow

A series of professionally staged photos showing Dilyn frolicking in No10's backgarden were released via the government's official Flickr page earlier today

A series of professionally staged photos showing Dilyn frolicking in No10’s backgarden were released via the government’s official Flickr page earlier today

Meet the snappers: Photographers employed to make sure ministers (and their pets) always look their best 

Andrew Parsons

Not unfamiliar to Downing St, Mr Parsons works as the PM’s Special Advisor part-time on the equivalent of £100,000 a year. 

Mr Parsons was previously employed by David Cameron while he was opposition leader and then on a short-term contract after he became Prime Minister.

He however lost his cabinet desk and was moved onto Conservative Party payroll after Mr Cameron bowed to intense criticism about the appointment.

Mr Parsons provided some of the most memorable photos of Boris Johnson during the 2019 election, for which his company was paid £45,000. He has since been put back on the public payroll by Mr Johnson.

Pippa Fowles

One of three taxpayer-funded vanity photographers on staff in Downing Street, Ms Fowles is working on secondment from the Ministry of Defence.

According to her Linkedin profile Ms Fowles covered the Royal Air Force for more than four years before joining No10 in January last year.

She is the Prime Minister’s official photographer. 

Simon Dawson

Not to confuse roles, Mr Dawson is the Chief Government photographer, giving him a wider remit of work than Ms Fowles. 

He worked as a freelance photographer for Bloomberg News and Associated Press for over a decade before joining the government’s operation.

Simon Walker 

Entrusted with cultivating brand Rishi, Mr Walker is the Digital Content Editor and Photo Lead at HM Treasury.

Starting out as a freelancer in 1987, he has worked as a photographer for the Daily Express and The Times, before becoming News Picture Editor at The Times in 2004.

After leaving Reuter’s picture desk in 2018 he moved briefly towards consultancy work before joining HMRC at the end of 2019. 

Mr Sunak, the second most senior minister in the Government, told the 54-year-old chef he was ‘super excited’ to speak to him, adding: ‘Thanks for making the time for me.’

But the video and images posted online sent Twitter into meltdown, with users asking how Mr Ramsay could talk with authority about the impact on small businesses.

‘Up next – Rishi talks to (F1 racing driver) Lewis Hamilton about the problems facing ordinary people working in the transport industry,’ one wag wrote.

London based chef Kerstin Rodgers added: ‘This is really tone deaf. Interview freelancers working in hospitality, small restaurant owners, chefs and foh (front of house). Why are you obsessed with celebrity?’

The Chancellor later posted a set of photos from the discussion on the Government’s official Flickr channel.

Downing Street now employs three photographers to snap images of ministers and  government pets, such as Larry the cat. 

Last month, Downing Street defended using taxpayer-funded photographers for an Instagram-style photoshoot of Mr Johnson’s dog Dilyn playing in the snow – by suggesting he was a Government minister.

In what critics suggested was a personal vanity project, a series of professionally staged photos showing the Jack Russell frolicking in No10’s back garden were released via the government’s official Flickr page.

A day before, another of No10’s three publicly-funded photographers released a candid shot he had taken of Larry the cat, Downing Street’s chief mouser, on a bookcase below a portrait of The Queen.

The photoshoots, ultimately at the expense of the taxpayer, have raised questions about the work of No10’s press operation, forcing the government to defend the photos.

Asked whether photographers should be taking pictures of Dilyn and Larry, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: ‘These photographers document the work of the government as well as the work inside Number 10. We make these photos available for editorial use not just domestically but internationally as well.’ 

Asked whether pictures of Dilyn counted as documenting the work of government, they added that they took photos ‘not just of the PM but the whole of the Cabinet’, suggesting the rescue animal had become a Government top dog. 

Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner said: ‘The public will be rightly questioning why there is apparently no limit on the money that can be found to pay for a coterie of vanity photographers for the Prime Minister.’ 

The pictures are credited to photographer Pippa Fowles, one of three vanity photographers on staff in Downing Street, who is understood to be working in Number 10 on secondment from the Ministry of Defence since January 2020.

While the quality of the snaps is not in doubt, her role comes despite the Mr Johnson already employing a personal photographer, Andrew Parsons, as his Special Advisor part-time on the equivalent of £100,000 a year.

Mr Parsons was previously employed by David Cameron while opposition leader and then on a short-term contract after he became Prime Minister.

He however lost his cabinet desk and was moved onto Conservative Party payroll after Mr Cameron bowed to intense criticism about the appointment.

Downing Street now employs three photographers to snap images of ministers and government pets, including Dilyn

Downing Street now employs three photographers to snap images of ministers and government pets, including Dilyn 

Another of the official photographers took a candid shot of Larry the cat, Downing Street's chief mouser, on a bookcase below a portrait of The Queen

Another of the official photographers took a candid shot of Larry the cat, Downing Street’s chief mouser, on a bookcase below a portrait of The Queen

Mr Parsons provided photographs for Boris Johnson during the 2019 election, for which his company was paid £45,000. He has since been put back on the public payroll by Mr Johnson.

Ms Fowles meanwhile has already been taking photos of several Downing Street press conferences and has accompanied the PM to vaccination centres and schools. 

She also takes photos for other government work, though an online profile for her suggested she is an ‘MOD photographer for UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’.

A third promotional staffer, Simon Dawson, also began work last week on a salary of up to £60,635 a year.

Mr Johnson is not the only one to have invested in in-house photography, with Rishi Sunak famed for using staged and supposedly candid snaps to improve his image.

Mr Johnson is not the only one to have invested in in-house photography, with Rishi Sunak famed for using staged and supposedly candid snaps to improve his image.

Photographer Simon Dawson who recently joined No10, has already gone to work with Matt Hancock, showing the Health Secretary taking an active role in a meeting at the Department of Health before a Parliamentary announcement

Photographer Simon Dawson who recently joined No10, has already gone to work with Matt Hancock, showing the Health Secretary taking an active role in a meeting at the Department of Health before a Parliamentary announcement

It is understood he will work to help both Downing Street and the wider government ‘visually’, and has already taken photos of a No10 press briefing.

Has already gone to work with Matt Hancock, showing the Health Secretary taking an active role in a meeting at the Department of Health before a Parliamentary announcement. 

A further picture, taken by him, was published today of Larry, the Number 10 cat sitting on a sideboard beneath a picture of the Queen. 

Mr Johnson is not the only one to have invested in in-house photography, with Rishi Sunak famed for using staged and supposedly candid snaps to improve his image.

The Chancellor, dubbed ‘Dishy Rishi’ for his good looks, was seen striking a series of poses while looking through his Winter Economy Plan, from gazing out of the window deep in thought to leaning on a door frame to flick through his phone.

The gallery of images was released by the Treasury as part of a publicity drive to mark the unveiling of the plan in September, which included a scheme to top up the pay of people who can only work part-time in ‘viable jobs’. 

Mr Sunak, at a reported 5ft 6in, is known for cultivating his brand under the guidance of his adviser, the former TV presenter Allegra Stratton, including by marking Treasury media releases with his personal signature.

The increased use of employed photographers has not gone unnoticed, and the Prime Minister has also faced accusations from independent photographers of being excluded from event organised by No10.  

Beacon of Hope: The UK Vaccine Story will be released on a date to be confirmed  

Pictured: Matt Hancock

Pictured: Matt Hancock

The Health Secretary (pictured) was seen striking poses in shots put out by the government in February, from leaning on the back of his chair to folding his arms and staring intensely into a screen

 

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