Nicholas Jones - Blog and Archive Website
 

April 19, 2009 

When a key Downing Street strategist was exposed as having used a No.10 computer to write a grotesque email smearing senior Conservatives it damaged not only the Prime Minister’s standing but also chipped away still further at the public’s faith in the way Britain is governed.  Although Damian McBride was stupid enough to get caught, he was simply exercising the unbridled freedom which he and his fellow special advisers have been allowed to establish for themselves at an unacceptable cost to the impartiality of the civil service.   Character assassination is now in the dna of Labour Party spin doctors but what made this lurid email so exceptional was that the allegations were entirely unsubstantiated and those targeted included the shadow chancellor’s wife.

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.

 

Journalism at Your Service? 

International Journalism Festival, Perugia, 1.4.2009 

 

Two questions should trouble the journalists of Britain, Europe and America as we work through what will be a terrible year for the world economy. Why, during the boom years, didn’t we do more to investigate what was really happening in the financial markets?  And are journalists in danger now of being deflected from the task of holding our governments, banks and institutions to account? Journalists can play their part in serving the public interest by investigating what went wrong, by scrutinising what the politicians are saying, and by helping to ensure that rigorous controls are introduced to prevent the damaging financial speculation of the past.  

The recent dramatic fall in newspaper circulation and advertising revenue – especially among regional daily and local weekly newspapers -- could have a profound effect on the public relations industry. Such has been the loss of jobs among reporters and sub-editors, that in one respect the pr industry might gain.  Journalists are already over dependent on the constant supply of news and information being issued by the public relations and public affairs industries and that over-reliance is bound to get worse, making it ever more likely that news releases will be published without the kind of journalistic challenges and checks that should have been made.

When Arthur Scargill visited the Camp for Climate Change erected outside the Kingsnorth coal-fired power station in Kent in August 2008, he found himself at odds with a group of activists who back in the 1980s might well have joined him in challenging the policies of Margaret Thatcher.  Undaunted by the placards of environmental campaigners declaring “No new coal”, he used his guest appearance as honorary president of the National Union of Mineworkers to mount a valiant defence of the need for a new and integrated energy policy based on coal and renewables which he hoped would result in the closure of all nuclear power stations.  Delighted though they were both by the publicity which Scargill attracted and his criticism of the stop-and-search powers being exercised by riot police around the camp, the protestors seemed in no mood to be swayed by what smacked of special pleading by the NUM and they were adamant that if there was to be any real chance of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, there had to be a ban on any future investment in coal-fired generation.  Nonetheless Scargill was as ambitious as ever in presenting an action plan to revive the coal industry: + closed pits should be re-opened.+ coal production should be increased to 250 million tons a year (more than twice the level of the pre-1984 level out of output).+ approval should be given for the construction of a new generation of coal-fired power stations designed to incorporate the latest carbon capture technology.