Posts Tagged ‘spin’

Forget the black arts, McBride exposes Brown’s wasted potential

23/09/2013, 11:56:15 AM

by Kevin Meagher

Reading extracts from the intermittent release of Damian McBride’s scabrous and painfully frank account of life at the heart of the Brown political machine, there is an obvious and dispiriting parallel that comes to mind. James Gordon Brown seems to be the closest thing British politics has to Richard Milhous Nixon.

The comparison has been made before, whether it’s at the literal end of the scale – both were brooding and insular – or in what they did in office. The Nixonian paranoia and skulduggery of Brown’s operation that McBride lays bare is depressing to read; and all the more so because it didn’t have to be like this.

If you measure Gordon Brown’s record between 1997 and 2007, he emerges as one of the greatest social democrats of the post-war era, up there with Bevan and Crosland in leaving an enduring mark on reducing inequality.

Yet when you stretch the review period by just three years to include his premiership, Brown, like Nixon, is reduced to a figure despised, discredited and disgraced – or so his political enemies (including those within Labour’s ranks) constantly tell us.

This is certainly hyperbolic; the Brown government was not that bad; and, sure, he was no angel when he was at the Treasury either, running a perennial campaign to usurp Blair, but the real waste is that this didn’t all end when he realised his life’s ambition by becoming prime minister.

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Miliband must resist the evils of spin

27/11/2010, 06:34:14 PM

by Keith Darlington

As a member of the Labour party for over 35 years, and one who passionately cares about our party, I believe that we need a frank and honest assessment of our period of government and what went wrong.

Ed Miliband is right to set up a review. I hope that this will mean not just reviewing policy but also consider our conduct during our time in government. Some in our party seem to think that all we need to do is tweak some policies here and there and everything will be fine. For me, this won’t do. For at the heart of everything that went wrong during the New Labour years was Blair and Brown’s obsession with spin.

The spin doctor culture, of which Brown and Blair were among the main architects, succeeded in shutting out much sensible debate and enforcing a regime of top-down control at the expense of constructive and open discussion. In the early years of government, there might have been a case for some of this after the chaos in our party in the 1980s – for fear of being off-message and divided. But it went much too far in that it eventually poisoned our image with much of the public who came to see us as out-of-touch, untrustworthy, unprincipled and obsessed with power. (more…)

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Political spin is a beautiful thing.

19/11/2010, 06:50:33 AM

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. (more…)

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Tom Watson’s anatomy of a Downing St spin day

29/10/2010, 12:05:43 PM

Yesterday, we were opaquely conned.  Downing Street heralded a “forging ahead in the transparency agenda.” We were misled.

“This is the first time any government has proactively published information on special advisers’ gifts and hospitality. All this information is being published quarterly which will mean more regular and up to date information”, said Downing Street.

The rhetoric was soaring; the action was far more subterranean.

What actually happened was a cynical, but well executed spin exercise to kill the story and deflect attention on to the last Labour government – with Downing St spinners taking lobby journalists for patsies.

The statements were delayed – the first to be published was a statement on the cost of government cars for the last financial year of the Labour government. The next statement was not released for three hours.

Then the number 10 spin machine kicked into overdrive. The information about Labour special advisors for the last 12 months of the last Labour government was placed in the House of Commons library – great, transparent, easy to access. What about the statements on Tory and Lib Dem advisers, where were they? Well they were tucked away online, hidden from view, released in dribs and drabs.

PA led with the easy to find Labour information, comparing figures on the number of advisors. Cameron has reduced the number they say, or has he just moved the goal posts? How many lackeys from CCHQ have now found their way on to the civil service payroll?

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Our new leader will need to ‘fess up, stop spinning and start inspiring, says Sally Bercow

20/08/2010, 11:30:10 AM

At a drinks party recently, I got chatting to someone who said that if Labour is to win the next election, it needs ‘rebranding’. This chap did something in marketing, so he would say that wouldn’t he. Nevertheless, it was rather depressing to hear, and in my view it is wrong to boot. Our party is not a packet of sweets or a jar of coffee awaiting new packaging; in fact that is precisely where the last Labour government went wrong – by substituting idealism and vision with spin. Our new leader must break decisively from the past; he (for it will be a he) cannot simply change the advertising agency (although he should definitely look at that), rehash what’s gone before and embark on a rebranding exercise.

Encouragingly, all five Labour leader candidates seem to appreciate this – at the moment. However, the persuasiveness of the spin doctors, advisers and pollsters that will flock around our newly elected leader should not be underestimated. They will bandy about empty phrases like ‘progressive centre left’ whilst arguing that Britain is fundamentally a deeply conservative country and so Labour dare not move more than a milimetre to the left of the Coalition. As a result, the temptation will be to tinker at the edges and carry on much as before, banking largely on the Con-Libs becoming increasingly unpopular. This will not wash. It does not, however, mean lurching drastically to the left on every issue. What it does mean is fashioning a new approach based on three concepts.

First, if Labour is to start to regain the public’s trust we have to be brutally honest about where we got it wrong and (dare I say it) where the coalition might be right. ‘Fessing up to a few oversights; even ones as significant as being too soft on the bankers and allowing the state to become too controlling, will not cut it. Our new leader should own up lock, stock and barrel – even though they might find it a bit awkward because they sat in cabinet at the time. With a bit of luck, the new leader will admit to Labour’s mistakes in areas including civil liberties, ID cards, prisons, housing (or more accurately the desperate lack of it) and the digital economy, then duly consign those policies to the scrapheap.

Simultaneously, and this does not come naturally to the more tribal amongst us, we will earn the public’s respect if we stop trying to score points for the sake of it and actually admit it if the Coalition has a case. It is simply not credible for the new leader to roundly condemn every single one of the coalition’s policies and planned cuts.

Second, on the back of such unflinching honesty, our new leader can go into battle. He must defend the last Labour government, who left a better, fairer, more tolerant country with transformed public services and an economy saved from depression. He must expose the chronic iniquity and manic ideology of the coalition’s policies and seek to thwart or temper them. And, most importantly of all, he must set out a clear, attractive and viable alternative.

Third, beyond adopting this new honest approach, Labour needs to develop a new programme. This should be done not by pandering to media prejudice, by shifting according to fluctuating opinion polls or by becoming overly cautious. Instead, we must craft an inspiring credo, driven by progressive Labour values, which has the potential to improve the lives of the mainstream majority in a way and on a scale that this right-wing government cannot imagine, let alone deliver.

It is time to rediscover our principles, our values and our idealism. An unerring focus on social justice – fighting for a fairer, more equal Britain – coupled with economic dynamism should be at the heart of our new programme. This focus on social justice will mean taxing the rich more, reducing the gap between the haves and the have-nots, creating more affordable housing, reducing the ugly disparities in educational achievement and thereby paving the way for a more socially mobile Britain.

Economic dynamism will mean an explanation of how we would reduce the deficit (by credible spending cuts and bold, but fair, tax rises) and over what timescale. In addition, we must develop a clear plan for growth and an active industrial policy (investing in manufacturing, green industries and apprenticeships), so that we can create a broader, more balanced economy, rather than the skewed, misshapen and city-driven creature of neo-liberal economic theory.

Labour’s new programme must not be imposed from the top but fed and informed by people in communities across the country who have something to tell us and hold our fate in their hands. Never again must we allow ourselves to become so aloof and out of touch. This means listening to and engaging with our councillors, activists, trade unionists, rank and file members and, above all, those who either deserted us in the polling booths or didn’t bother to turn out at all.

Every government runs into trouble and the coalition will be no exception. The biggest mistake would be simply to wait for them to lose the next election. Instead, Labour needs to ‘fess up, stop spinning and start inspiring millions of voters by fighting for a fairer, less divisive and more equal Britain.

Sally Bercow

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