Nicholas Jones - Blog and Archive Website

A succession of disastrous newspaper headlines for Prime Minister Gordon Brown provided an ideal illustration for the political reporters of Kazakhstan of the robust relationship which exists between the British press and the government of the United Kingdom.

No wonder the journalists of this former Soviet republic are in dire need of inspiration: they are having to try to report the activities of a Parliament which since August has turned Kazakhstan into a one-party state.

September 10, 2007 

By allowing "political storytellers" like Alastair Campbell to have so much influence in presenting the case for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Bush and Blair had made it more likely the post-Iraq trauma would be even worse than the aftermath of the withdrawal from Vietnam.

Sam Gardiner, a retired USAF colonel who investigates the media strategies of the US military, believes that unless Gordon Brown manages to distance himself from the way the wars were spun he will get caught up in a convulsion which is bound to damage the credibility of Britain as well as America.

Nicholas Jones paper presented to Spinwatch Conference, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow. 7.9.2007

If ever a serial offender was on probation it has to be the British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. He promised so much in preparing for office. He gave repeated undertakings that the Labour government which he led would end its reliance on spin and turn away from the dark arts of manipulating the news media. Yet, almost three months into his Premiership, Brown has still to show any real sign of delivering on a badly-needed programme of reform to restore public trust in what the government says; to reinforce the independence of the civil service; and to help Parliament rebuild its authority.

What happened was that events took over, the focus kept changing, drawing attention away from the abuses which need correcting. Within two days of entering Downing Street, a succession of potential disasters -- a failed terrorist attack, unprecedented summer floods and then an outbreak of foot and mouth disease -- gave the new Prime Minister an opportunity to project himself in a way which no-one had quite predicted. An arch control freak and manipulator was able, quite literally, to reinvent himself. Almost effortlessly, over the space of a few days, he assumed a commanding position and immediately began to dominate the political agenda, giving the impression that he had succeeded in discarding the political baggage of the past.

When that arch media manipulator Peter Mandelson pointed an accusing finger at unnamed officers in the Metropolitan Police Authority and blamed them for being responsible for a deluge of embarrassing leaks during the cash-for-honours investigation, he could hardly have paid a finer back-handed compliment to himself.

Here was an infamous former spin doctor, who was prolific in his own exploitation of leaked information, having the gall to castigate anyone else who had dared turn the tables and tried to undermine the credibility of Tony Blair and his closest colleagues.

Mandelson, like his fellow trader in confidential data, Alastair Campbell remains in denial about the damage his manipulative techniques inflicted on both the political process and the conduct of government; together they helped change the culture of Whitehall and Westminster and usher in an era where leaking has become a way of life within the state.

There is much to be commended in Gordon Brown’s sweeping proposals for restoring trust in the process of government but when it comes to curbing the culture of spin which has become deeply ingrained in Whitehall and Westminster, meaningful commitments are few and far between.

At least Brown deserves personal credit for having kept his word and ensured that his most imaginative constitutional changes were not leaked in advance as tended to be the case with the contents of most of his Budgets in the ten years he was Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Advance trailing of announcements -- or in other words state-approved leaking -- is so institutionalised within government departments there needs to be root and branch revision of ministerial and civil service codes going far beyond anything which the new Prime Minister has so far suggested.