Political spin is a beautiful thing.

by Dan Hodges

Chatting to one of Ed Miliband’s outer circle earlier in the week, I was the grateful recipient of what’s known in the trade as a “steer”. “Ed’s speech to the national policy forum on the 27th. Keep an eye on it. His office have been putting a lot of work into it. It’s going to start to flesh out who he is and where he’s going”.

Between now and Saturday week you will see more of this. The odd line here. A paragraph there.

Then, at some indefinable point, the steer will evolve into a “trail”. A theme for the speech will be laid out; though it will not be called a theme. It will be billed as a “narrative”. One or two issues will be identified. Key concepts. Though they will not be described as issues, or concepts. They will be badged as “top lines”. Keep a keen eye on the Sunday papers. The Sundays are the place the trail is traditionally laid; the top lines planted.

Then, late in the week, possibly Friday, but most probably Saturday morning, the trail will enter the final stage of its evolutionary journey. It will grow into a fully-fledged “briefing”. Actual words from the impending speech will emerge. Their meaning and import underlined. Now the speech will no longer sit in isolation. It will have been “framed”. Destined to live on as part of the “wider strategy”. Strategy is good. Tactics win headlines. Strategy wins elections. And this is a winning strategy. Until the next one.

Collectively, this process is called spin. Ed Miliband has three main spinners. Stewart Wood, Katie Myler, about to leave to take a new PR role, and Kenny Young.

They are evil people. Satanic. They practice the devil’s work.

There is no greater sin in modern politics than spinning. None more cruel, nor corrupt, than the spinner.

Who ordered the attack on Iraq, leading to the death of 250,000 innocent civilians? Alastair Campbell. Yes, Karl Rove ordered him to do it. But that’s no alibi.

Who led the country to economic ruin and Labour to electoral defeat? The bankers? Gordon Brown? Don’t be daft. It was Damian McBride, of course.

Peter Mandelson? Let’s not even get started on him. It’s only a matter of time before he receives his sealed indictment from the Hague.

Now, take a deep breath. Close your eyes. Cover your ears. Remove the children from the room.

Spin is good.

Spin is healthy.

Our politics is better because we have the spinners.

We know more today about what our politicians are doing, and why, than at any other time in our political history. Invariably, that fact is attributed to the “24 hour news cycle”. Yes. But who provides the news? Feeds the journalistic leviathan?

Journalists would have you believe they ferret it out. A life of flags in plant plots, and clandestine meetings in underground car parks. There are some who operate like that. They’re called David Hencke. And he’s widely regarded in the Westminster village as brilliant. But bonkers.

Anyone who wanted to understand anything about politics over the past decade had to understand the Blair/Brown relationship. Today, that “psychodrama” is established history. At the time it was denied. Rubbished. Tea room gossip.

On the record. Off the record, we knew the truth. Thanks to the unattributed briefings. The unsourced comments. Thanks to the spinners, if we could bear to look, we knew what we needed to know.

Of course there are some who argue that their malign interventions caused more poison to flow. Possibly. Without Charlie Whelan, Gordon Brown may well have learned to respect and admire Tony Blair. Gracefully come to terms with his leadership. Without Alastair or Peter, Tony may himself have grown comfortable with the idea of Gordon as his natural successor and happily relinquished the reigns of power. Possibly.

Spinners are not social workers. They are not providing a public service, weaving their web so that we may become enlightened. They are hired guns, pushing their bosses’ programmes. But that is the reality of politics. A political party is a team of rivals. If we understand that fact, we understand better the processes that govern us. Spin doctors reflect these tensions. They do not, by and large, create them.

And those guns are needed. If our politicians operated in a benign environment, it would not be necessary to hire people to ride shotgun. But politics is a jungle. There is a hostile and voracious media. There are political opponents, waiting to pounce. Worst of all, there are friends and colleagues, waiting for the first misstep.

We, in the Labour party, frequently ignore this reality. Spinning is frowned upon. It is unmanly. We march behind brass bands with unfurled banners. We do not lurk in shady corners, whispering bitter nothings to the gutter press.

We, more than most, should know better. The party that for decades saw its leaders, policies and electoral hopes torn to shreds by the media. Who, in the nineties, stood sentinel against a similar fate? The spinners.

Alastair Campbell. Peter Mandelson. Derek Draper. Charlie Whelan. Jo Moore. Thanked for their loyal service? Fat chance. They became bywords for all that was wrong with our political system. All that was wrong with out party. To paraphrase Jack Nicholson, for years the Labour movement rose and slept under the blanket of the protection they provided, then when the going got tough condemned them for the manner in which they provided it.

Yes, at times they were too quick on the draw. On occasion, innocent people got caught in the cross-fire. But, when they did, on every single occasion it was the spinners, not the politicians, who were forced to pay the price.

Now we are entering the brave world of the new politics. It is to be a spin free zone. David Miliband’s leadership campaign team were instructed to only speak on the record. Ed Miliband’s first words to his shadow cabinet were to call for an end to off the record briefings.

These Gandhian gestures are admirable. But gestures is all they are. Modern politics is no place for a spin pacifist. And even Gandhi never had to go head to head with Andy Coulson.

Enough of this black anti-spin propaganda. It’s time to call a halt to the character assassination of the spinners. There is a war on. Cameron and Clegg are laying waste to our communities. We need every weapon in our armory. The enemy offers no quarter. They should expect none. Let us unleash the dogs of war. And may the best man spin.

Dan Hodges is contributing editor of Labour Uncut.


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9 Responses to “Political spin is a beautiful thing.”

  1. All you’ve missed is that one of the reasons politicians need ‘spinners’ is because you can’t trust journalists and the media to simply report facts – they spin the truth, so you’re left with no option but to spin back if you want more of the true facts to get through.

  2. Chris says:

    @Dan

    Ed needs a Malcolm Tucker to phone you when your stirring shit up in the NS.

  3. Dan Hodges says:

    …well spun Stuart…

  4. eastender says:

    Hmm, so just who are you spinning for in today’s New Statesman? Looks more like spreading misinformation to me.

  5. Dan Hodges says:

    Chris,

    He’s got one. He did.

    Dan

  6. Chris says:

    @Dan

    LOL!!!

  7. zahidf says:

    so, how did Mcbride/Campbell work out for you guys again?

  8. Dan Hodges says:

    zahidf,

    For a very long time they worked out very, very well…

    Dan

  9. Spin is useful. I’ll agree with that.

    But stop demonising spinners? You must be kidding. Claiming you’re rejecting spin is a ritual. It’s like a medieval coronation rite. It’s an action that must be taken, even though it’s essentially meaningless, because it delivers a message.

    A message that this leader is new, and clean, and they’ll do things differently. Spin, in other words. But spin only works when it can’t be fully acknowledged.

    And this is why spinners who backfire are cast out. Because they’re there to take one for the team. They’re useful, but they can never be openly celebrated because of the conventions of the political system.

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