Nicholas Jones - Blog and Archive Website

While grave mistakes were undoubtedly made and many questions remain unanswered, the security service MI5 deserves to be commended on the manner in which it published a detailed account of one of the largest anti-terrorist surveillance operations in its history. On the completion of the Old Bailey trial at which five men were jailed for life, MI5 immediately released a dossier of data on its website. All sections of the news media -- and the rest of the world -- had simultaneous access to the same information.

One of the country’s most secretive organisations -- which over the years has leaked like a sieve to selected journalists -- was demonstrating that it is possible to ensure equal access and a level playing field for the media. Whatever the shortcomings in its account as to how the July 7 London bombers slipped through the net, MI5 reminded the government, on the day before Tony Blair celebrated the competition of a decade in power, that there are alternative communication strategies to the squalid and politically corrupt spin routines which have so besmirched the Labour administration.

Speeach to Cardiff School of Journalism, Cardiff University 23.3.2006

Spin isn’t dead and it isn’t resting. It’s mutated; I think it has definitely changed here in the UK, morphed into something else, and the way spin is delivered by the government is much more subtle. There is still a gloss being put on what the government machine is saying but the publicists and propagandists of Tony Blair’s government have learned from the many mistakes of those who once resided in that hall of fame of British spin doctoring…Peter Mandelson, Alastair Campbell, Charlie Whelan, Jo Moore et al. The bullying and hectoring which you see depicted in the BBC comedy The Thick of It -- which is done in a fly on the wall style and where much of the action takes place in Alastair Campbell’s lair in Downing Street -- is very perceptive but rather out of date.

The news media is now far more hostile to the Blair government than it was a few years ago at the height of Alastair Campbell’s power and that hostility means that the bullying and cajoling which New Labour could previously get away with is much too counter productive to be worth it. Another important factor is that journalists are no longer in awe of the Blair government, which many of them were initially. They no longer feel they must please the new government or otherwise they will be squeezed out and wont get access. So instead we have seen the spin doctors learn new tricks, they are far more accomplished at marketing themselves in a crowded media market place and in getting out the information which they want to promote.