Saturday, December 02, 2006
The Limits of Spin
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.
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.
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