Nicholas Jones - Blog and Archive Website

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.


Alastair Campbell’s pre-launch publicity blitz for The Blair Years was a text book example of the sleazy spin which so damaged the Blair government. Self-serving leaks to the newspapers whetted the appetite of reporters; broadcasters tripped over themselves in their rush to gain exclusive interviews; and barely any questions were asked about the ethics of how it was that a public servant could earn £1million by selling secrets gathered around the cabinet table.

But once the first, much-hyped extracts from his diaries appeared on his website even the spinmeister himself could not hide the truth: there, between the lines, was evidence of the way Campbell had driven a coach and horses through the code of conduct for politically-appointed temporary civil servants.

No wonder Gordon Brown promised in his statement on restoring trust to the political process (3.7.2007) that he would legislate to make sure that never again would a political appointee like Campbell be allowed to hold the power to give instructions to civil servants and get involved in the preparation and publication of intelligence information.

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