Nicholas Jones - Blog and Archive Website

January 9, 2008 

All the lofty rhetoric about Gordon Brown restoring traditional civil service values has finally been dissipated with the appointment of Stephen Carter as chief political organiser in Downing Street.

Quick fixes aimed at driving the media agenda became the hallmark of Tony Blair’s decade in Downing Street and the cumulative damage which they inflicted on both the authority of Parliament and the standing of the civil service caused widespread unease within the Labour Party.

Early last summer, as he outlined a vision for his Premiership, Brown and his aides did much to promote the idea that the new administration would rein in unaccountable political advisers and put the levers of power back in the hands of civil servants.

Depending on who you believe, Gordon Brown is now in his fifth or is it his sixth worst week as Prime Minister. It doesn’t matter who is right: what is so damaging to the Labour government is that in the eyes of the news media the Brown Premiership is now in crisis mode, in the same kind of downward spiral which ended with John Major’s humiliating defeat a decade ago.

However hard ministers might try to regain the initiative, most journalists are now judging events simply on the basis of whether or not they constitute yet another disaster for an accident-prone administration.

Major was depicted by the cartoonists as a wimp who tucked his shirt into his underpants just as Brown is now being ridiculed un-mercilessly and has progressed from a brooding bear-like grump into a bumbling and incompetent Mr Bean.

Tony Blair ended his decade in power as badly damaged by the word "spin" as John Major was by "sleaze". How, after a mere one hundred days in office, could Gordon Brown have finished up with the same dreaded label "spin" hanging just as firmly around his own neck?

What the new Prime Minister became a victim of was uncontrolled spinning which is not only eroding the credibility of his government but is also destabilising his party and eating away at trust and friendship within the wider labour and trade union movement.

In place of the control freakery of the early Blair years, we are witnessing a new phenomenon. By uncontrolled spin I mean the unstoppable trade in anonymous quotes, leaks and tip-offs which, for example, did so much damage within the party during the final years of the Blair-Brown feud and which is still causing just as much mischief.

Guest lecture by Nicholas Jones at Loughborough University, 7.11.2007

Tony Blair finished his decade in power as badly damaged by the word "spin" as John Major was by "sleaze". How, after a mere one hundred days in office, could Gordon Brown have ended up with the same dreaded label "spin" hanging just as firmly around his own neck? What the new Prime Minister has become a victim of is the uncontrolled spinning which is not only eroding the credibility of the government but is also destabilising his party and eating away at trust and friendship within the wider Labour and trade union movement.

From its inception New Labour encouraged a culture of spin which is now more deeply embedded within Britain than other comparable countries. The relationship between our politicians and the news media is much closer, more manipulative and poses a far greater threat to the democratic process. But in place of the control freakery of the early Blair years, what we are witnessing is a new phenomenon. By uncontrolled spin I mean the unstoppable trade in anonymous quotes, leaks and tip-offs which, for example, did so much damage within the party during the final years of the Blair-Brown feud and which is still causing just as much mischief.

It is the same runaway spin which fuelled so much speculation about a snap general election that the hype developed a momentum of its own, with the result that Brown found he had boxed himself in.

A succession of disastrous newspaper headlines for Prime Minister Gordon Brown provided an ideal illustration for the political reporters of Kazakhstan of the robust relationship which exists between the British press and the government of the United Kingdom.

No wonder the journalists of this former Soviet republic are in dire need of inspiration: they are having to try to report the activities of a Parliament which since August has turned Kazakhstan into a one-party state.

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