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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

spinning the spin « Previous | |Next »
July 16, 2007

Alastair Campbell was privy to intimate conversations with cabinet ministers and world leaders; but surreptitiously he was taking a note of what they thought were private conversations. He was the transmission mechanism, in charge of "message discipline", and therefore in charge of both the message and the discipline. As one of Blair's key advisers, he stepped beyond matters of presentation and explanation to be a strategist and tactician.

Apparently, the diaries are a bit of a yawn as the politically meaty bits are missing from the Blair years. Does his account from the heart of the spin machine contain insights into the management of political spin? After all Alastair Campbell is responsible for an era of squalid, sleazy spin. He made headlines around the world because of his central role in preparing the dossier on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, and the now infamous claim that Saddam Hussein could launch those weapons in 45 minutes.The weapons have yet to be found, and Campbell is basically defending his role as spim master.

Campbellsdiaries.jpg
Peter Brooke

Though Campbell chats away on his Diary of the Dairy I haven't found much there on the spinning of politics--what he calls modern communications. We know that Campbell, as Blair Government chief "spin doctor", has admitted that Labour's attempts to control the media has been partly to blame for public antipathy towards politics.

Those attempts to influence the news agenda involved self-serving leaks to the newspapers that whetted the appetite of reporters so that broadcasters tripped over themselves in their rush to gain exclusive interviews. It was Campbell who was feeding the "feral beasts" though a steady diet of good lines, clever evasions, half-truths and cues.

In doing so Campbell damaged the Parliamentary process because of the way he was allowed to rewrite the rules for government information officers so that they could trail announcements in the news media before being announced to Parliament. Campbell, as a special advisor, had the power to instruct civil servants or get involved in the publication of intelligence information, and he fought attempts by senior public servants to claw back a degree of control for the civil service.

Jack Waterford at the Canberra Times makes the point that:

Spin doctors are not new, any more than minders are. Only the terms are new. But the role of modern media in the political process and the 24-hour news cycle makes their role more significant. It has, to a degree, created a new profession somewhere between the politician himself or herself and the old notion of the cunning adviser, Svengali, Richelieu or Machiavelli himself.

They are masters of being ahead of the game. The danger is that the more one's talents as a Machiavelli are recognised, the more one gets to be distrusted, the more people feel they are being manipulated, the more the audience feels they are being played upon. Campbell was found out in the end.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 12:19 AM |