Nicholas Jones - Blog and Archive Website

Yet again the Labour Party is paying a heavy price for giving free rein to political attack dogs who have the status of civil servants but whose uncontrollable behaviour is undermining the democratic process.  Damian McBride’s crude attempt at smearing both the leader of the Opposition and the shadow chancellor is par for the course in the every day story of the apparatchiks on whom the Prime Minister and his cabinet colleagues have come to rely. But while Gordon Brown is rightly being blamed for having lost control of his politically-driven spin doctors, David Cameron should also be in the frame.  He too has some questions to answer.

If ever there was an example of how important it can be for politicians to understand how to exploit the news media it has to be Enoch Powell's calculated timing of his "Rivers of Blood" speech. Although Powell's apologists insist to this day that it was never his intention to deliver such a highly-inflammatory speech, the build-up had been prepared with great precision on the advice a close friend, Clem Jones, who had in effect become the MP's personal spin doctor. Jones, editor of the Wolverhampton Express and Star, had been advising Powell on how to maximise his coverage in the press and he followed to the letter the advice he was given on supplying the text in advance to a carefully-selected group of political editors, leader writers and columnists and the speech was under a strict Saturday afternoon embargo, in order to secure maximum exposure in the Sunday newspapers. Former BBC correspondent Nicholas Jones reveals a family drama which throws new light on what many political observers consider is the most controversial speech of the post-war years.

 

After a cynical betrayal of the idealism which every journalist should strive for, Alastair Campbell finally tripped himself up in the mire of his own double-speak.

His utter contempt for the journalists of tomorrow and the challenges they face was underlined by his choice of title for the annual Hugh Cudlipp lecture, "The media: a case of growth in scale, alas, not in stature". (28.1.2008).

At the heart of Campbell’s reheated diatribe was his assertion that he and Tony Blair went the extra mile to improve the reporting of politics but it was rebuffed by the "relentless negativity" of political journalists who "culturally and collectively present an utterly one side view of political debate".

After all the pre-publication hype that Alastair Campbell’s diaries would provide "a fuller and more complete truth" about political life in Britain, the upshot three months later seems to be the reverse: his book’s superficiality has been equalled only by its apparent irrelevance.

Campbell was likewise wide of the mark in his over-blown claim that The Blair Years would become "part of the historical record of a fascinating period in British and international politics" and his belief that "millions of words will be published and broadcast…about TB, his leadership and his legacy".

Again the opposite seems to be the case. Apart from the ongoing nightmare over what to do about the tragic trauma of the Iraq war, the relevance of the Blair decade appears to be disappearing over the political horizon at a rate of knots. When contrasted with the repercussions of the far-reaching changes of the Thatcher decade -- whether their impact was ultimately thought to have been for good or for ill -- the checklist of achievements for Tony Blair during the ten years he was in office bears no comparison.

In the frenetic build-up to the release of Alastair Campbell’s diaries I kept wondering whether there might be any way of reconciling Gordon Brown’s desperate struggle to restore trust in the Labour government with a spin doctor’s confident assertion that the publication of his book would be "good for Labour and good for politics".

The Blair Years confirmed that even the spinmeister himself could not hide the truth: there, on page after page, was ample proof of the damage which Campbell had inflicted on the political process through an era of squalid, sleazy spin.

What also emerged through his pre-launch bluster and countless boastful entries about the Blairite chorus of approval for the "brilliant" job he was doing in Downing Street, was that Campbell remained in denial.