Category: Political Spin
Nicholas Jones paper presented to Spinwatch Conference, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow. 7.9.2007
If ever a serial offender was on probation it has to be the British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. He promised so much in preparing for office. He gave repeated undertakings that the Labour government which he led would end its reliance on spin and turn away from the dark arts of manipulating the news media. Yet, almost three months into his Premiership, Brown has still to show any real sign of delivering on a badly-needed programme of reform to restore public trust in what the government says; to reinforce the independence of the civil service; and to help Parliament rebuild its authority.
What happened was that events took over, the focus kept changing, drawing attention away from the abuses which need correcting. Within two days of entering Downing Street, a succession of potential disasters -- a failed terrorist attack, unprecedented summer floods and then an outbreak of foot and mouth disease -- gave the new Prime Minister an opportunity to project himself in a way which no-one had quite predicted. An arch control freak and manipulator was able, quite literally, to reinvent himself. Almost effortlessly, over the space of a few days, he assumed a commanding position and immediately began to dominate the political agenda, giving the impression that he had succeeded in discarding the political baggage of the past.
When that arch media manipulator Peter Mandelson pointed an accusing finger at unnamed officers in the Metropolitan Police Authority and blamed them for being responsible for a deluge of embarrassing leaks during the cash-for-honours investigation, he could hardly have paid a finer back-handed compliment to himself.
Here was an infamous former spin doctor, who was prolific in his own exploitation of leaked information, having the gall to castigate anyone else who had dared turn the tables and tried to undermine the credibility of Tony Blair and his closest colleagues.
Mandelson, like his fellow trader in confidential data, Alastair Campbell remains in denial about the damage his manipulative techniques inflicted on both the political process and the conduct of government; together they helped change the culture of Whitehall and Westminster and usher in an era where leaking has become a way of life within the state.
There is much to be commended in Gordon Brown’s sweeping proposals for restoring trust in the process of government but when it comes to curbing the culture of spin which has become deeply ingrained in Whitehall and Westminster, meaningful commitments are few and far between.
At least Brown deserves personal credit for having kept his word and ensured that his most imaginative constitutional changes were not leaked in advance as tended to be the case with the contents of most of his Budgets in the ten years he was Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Advance trailing of announcements -- or in other words state-approved leaking -- is so institutionalised within government departments there needs to be root and branch revision of ministerial and civil service codes going far beyond anything which the new Prime Minister has so far suggested.
How Conservative bloggers are out in front in the blogsphere.
Speech to Fondazione Farefuturo, Rome, July 3, 2007
For a political party in opposition, being ahead of the game in exploiting new forms of media might prove to be just as important in terms of fighting an election as devising an effective campaign message. It was the sure-footed way in which the Labour Party took advantage of the expansion in television news channels and programmes in the late 1980s and early 1990s which helped to propel Tony Blair to a landslide victory in the British general election of 1997.
Ten years later, despite three successive election defeats, it is activists in the Conservative Party who are dictating the pace in using websites and blogs to promote and debate the Tory agenda. Initially the bloggers did not get much help or even encouragement from the party leadership, but there is now a better appreciation of their potential to improve the electoral chances of David Cameron while at the same time making life uncomfortable for the Labour government. And, perhaps more significantly, it is definitely bloggers from the right rather than from the left who are managing to establish themselves as a new generation of political commentators and pundits. Their views are increasingly being sought by the traditional news media, such as newspapers, television and radio. Their websites have become instant sounding boards for political opinion and as a result they are closer to the party membership
Speech to Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation, London
June 21, 2007
What was so demeaning about Tony Blair's appeal to journalists to recognise the downside of the 24-hour news media was his failure to address his own relationship with the newspaper proprietors. By avoiding entirely what was so obviously a no-go area, the Prime Minister undermined his own critique on the ills of modern journalism.