No escape from the No.10. bunker? UK government news management under siege: John Major (1990-97) and Boris Johnson (2019-2022)

Garland, Ruth. 2024. No escape from the No.10. bunker? UK government news management under siege: John Major (1990-97) and Boris Johnson (2019-2022). Corporate Communications: An International Journal, 29(1), pp. 24-37. ISSN 1356-3289 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

The UK Prime Minister John Major (1990-97) admitted to a judicial public inquiry that his failure to develop a “close relationship with any part of the media may have been a contributory factor to the hostile media the 1990-97 government often received” (Major, 2012). This paper argues that news management during the Major premiership is worth serious scrutiny, not just as an interlude between two media-friendly Prime Ministers, Thatcher and Blair, but in comparison to Boris Johnson’s struggle to contain the news narrative between 2019 and 2022. Both administrations tried and failed to defend themselves against terminal reputational crises during their closing years. Do their attempts illustrate a systemic dysfunction in government-media relations and, if so, what is and should be the role of government PR in these circumstances?

As part of a wider study into government communications from 1979 to date, this paper draws on evidence from government archives from the 1990s, as well as contemporary accounts, official documents, media accounts, memoirs and biographies, to examine the PR record of both administrations. It draws parallels between the Major and Johnson eras to identify obstacles to the achievement of government communication that considers the needs of citizens.

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'This author accepted manuscript is deposited under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC) licence. This means that anyone may distribute, adapt, and build upon the work for non-commercial purposes, subject to full attribution. If you wish to use this manuscript for commercial purposes, please contact'


Government communication, public relations, UK, John Major, Boris Johnson, Conservative party, news management, political communication, mediatization

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Media, Communications and Cultural Studies
Media, Communications and Cultural Studies > Centre for the Study of Global Media and Democracy


June 2023Accepted
7 August 2023Published Online

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Date Deposited:

22 Jun 2023 14:28

Last Modified:

08 Jan 2024 14:03

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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