Saturday, December 02, 2006


The Limits of Spin

'Spin' is nothing new, of course. The greatest exponents of its black arts were Stalin and Hitler. 'The bigger the lie, the more they will believe it' wrote Hitler in Mein Kampf and Stalin's lies managed to persuade swathes of the cleverest people on the interwar left that he really had invented a 'New Civilisation' as Sidney and Beatrice Webb's book on the USSR was subtitled. Since then spin's practitioners have not been idle but the word did not enter the mainstream on this side of the Atlantic until Peter Mandelson began working his 'New Labour' magic.

Today in the Guardian we learn that David Cameron has his very own Mandelson, a fellow public schoolboy by the name of Steve Hilton(not sure if my picture is the right one as Google images offered several popsingerish alternatives). The son of a Hungarian ice hockey champion refugee called Hircksac who fled in 1956 and anglicised his name, 'Hilton's' phenomenally bright brain led him via a scholarship to Christ's Hospital School Sussex on to PPE at Oxford. In 2001, despairing of the Tories, he voted Green but was tempted back into the Conservative fold and is now Cameron's closest advisor, partner to fellow aide Rachel Whetstone and faithfully dogging his footsteps on photoshoots around the world. The Rove-esque soubriquet 'David's Brain' has already been coined.

'You can't sell politicians like washing powder' he is quoted a saying, 'It's messages that count.' I'm sure this is right but this doesn't stop spin doctors still trying desperately to succeed at the washing powder thing. My feeling is that the key messages about politicians are communicated, eventually, by themselves. Just as you can't sell WD40 as a washing powder, so you can't sell someone lacking the 'right stuff' as someone who has it. So we had Duncan Smith offered as a strong, family based 'quiet' man who would add integrity and honesty to his other qualities when leading the nation. The problem there was that, after seeing a fair bit of IDS on our TV screens we did not believe in his 'other qualities' at all.

Similarily with Blair: he was offered as the miracle ingredient we had all been waiting for by Mandelson and Campbell who cleverly wrote the scripts for this consumate actor/politician. It's taken a while but most people by now have seen through the spin. We see so much of leading pooliticians that we come to 'know' them in a way we never did before. The public is apathetic about politics but-unless I'm totally naive and the cynics right- most voters are able to judge character reasonably well. Eventually politicians fail to fool most of the people most of the time and are rumbled.

Hence Michael Foot- lovely guy but not PM material; Neil Kinnock- more or less ditto; Michael Howard, capable politician but basically an unlikeable unreconstructed Thatcherite. This is the problem 'Steve' faces: has his man got the necessary qualities? Is he really what he is being presented as? If he is, than the public might well place him in Downing St, but if he is not, then, as some recent polls seemed to suggest, he'll end up merely as a historical footnote. If Hilton really is 'Dave's Brain', my bet is that Dave won't last long.

Really interesting. YOu say Blair looked perfect but then faded away- just a thought but can a politician survive in today's climate- given they can't be perfect and will make mistakes aren't they inevitably failures?
Our mate Steve pictured here sporting a nice leather jacket:
Thanks for this link. I'm now certain I got the wrong Steve but the article from the Torygraph jan this year gives more stuff on Hilton than the Guardian link I provided. Interesting his relationship with Whetstone is 'on-off' and that he wants to remain in the background to pretend Dave doesn't have a king spinner,
Well, Enoch Powell said,some time ago, that all political careers end in failure. The advent of 24 media coverage makes this tendency even more of a reality. Can you think of any major politician over the last, say 30 years whose career is regarded as a success? Thatcher? not really. Callaghan? No. Healey? Not really. The one who comes closest in my view is Roy Jenkins and that's partly because he was hugely successful as a biographer outside politics.
Blair['s quest for a succesful legacy? Forget it.
Skipper, as always, you are in danger of believing what you want to believing what you want to believe. The interpretation of Howard is intriguing. Foot and Kinnock were rejected because of their perceived incompetence? I doubt it, both were rejected for having loony left ideas that left most Brits in a cold sweat. Howard rejected because he was a Thatcherite? All evidence seems to show that Thatcherite ideas seem to work with the British people. She didn't really have many problems with elections as I remember. I can accept you are an optimist, but it is getting a bit weary now. Cruddas for deputy leader...which I would love to see happen for obvious reasons. Chances: less that a snowball in hell. Brown to beat Cameron in an election campaign, thus ending Cameron horrid leadership of the Tories...which I would love to see. Chances: highly unlikely. Cameron may be vacuous and utterly pointless. He may be devoid of policy or ideas, but Blair is proof that this will not necessarily put of the British people. Whatever you think of him(in my case not a lot), he is a cert for Downing Street in three years time for so many reasons. Start getting used to it, and stop dreaming about him falling down.
It is obvious I think that Dave is a kind of android like Tony B. and his henchman has a prehensile tail. Once we accept that life forms from alternative universes are running our country we will be able to better deal with the threat. If you don't believe me then explain how it is that Dave could eat all that Polonium 210 I sent him and still live?
By the way you are quite sexy in an outdoorsy sort of way!
I wish I had Michael's certainty about the outcome of the next election. As I posted here it's not that difficult to imagine Brown turning his perceived weaknesses (surly, moody, too intellectual) into strengths which play well against what the country might come to see as Blair mkII - at the moment Cameron thinks that's a neat positioning tactic since it exploits Labour tensions but three years hence? I'm not so sure...
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