Margaret Thatcher is said to have been the first UK leader to employ a spin doctor but New Labour put the idea into hyperdrive with the likes of Alistair Campbell and Peter Mandelson. During the New Labour years I was angered at the flagrant gibberish trotted out by Mr. Mandelson during interviews. He would start a sentence, introduce a clause, introduce a sub-clause and then wander off into nowhere and if the interviewer tried to bring him back to the point he would behave as if this were the height of bad manners. He trained Gordon Brown to attempt this and there is a fantastic bit of footage showing Brown’s driveling on to BBC political journalist Nick Robinson and then Mandelson looming up to the camera and grinning as if to say: Yes, we’re TALKING BOLLOCKS, you know it, I know it but there is nothing you can do about it. (And damn, I’ve lost that clip).
I even remember Mandelson stating “politics is about spelling out your policies” – No it isn’t, that’s marketing, that’s communications. Politics is primarily about setting policy and that is what Labour in opposition have failed to do.
The utter contempt that Mandelson showed for the public appalled me. While Blair cozied up to the mega-corporations and Brown continued to borrow even during the boom years, New Labour’s arrogance led them to assume that they could do anything they liked and trot out any old bullshit as justification. (45 minutes my arse!).
I applauded when New Labour were toppled and hoped that we had seen the end of this nonsense. Of course the shiny new Tory leader started spinning before getting into power. He changed the Tory logo to a little tree. Remember that? A quick look at the Tory web site reveals it’s been changed again to something a little more traditional.
But then we had the MP expenses scandal and the media phone tapping and the results of the Hillsborough inquiry and the pedophilia in the Catholic Church. It seemed that the whole establishment had been caught with its trousers down and no matter how much they spun the web just tightened around their throats.
So, with faith in politicians at a low and with no clear political winners I thought that we had come off that peak of contempt for the general public and that politicians now understood that talking the talk was not enough, they had to walk the walk.
But, oh dear. The Labour front bench. The Ed and Ed show. The Pinky and Perky of British politics. Both continue to base their opposition to the Tories on presentation over content. Their policies are oh so obviously contrived by the marketing department. Not so much “What do we believe in” but “What can we say that will win us votes”. Remember when Balls and Milliband could not open their mouths without saying the word “failure”? Eds obviously thought that if they said “failure” often enough we’d start associating it with Tories but we just associated it with anyone named Ed. And, oh GOD! Who on Earth thought that Douglas Alexander should be in the shadow cabinet? Nothing to say but wont shut up about it. The Labour leadership are a bunch of salesmen but they have nothing to sell. Just watch this video where Ed Milliband gives identical answers to five different questions.
All this emphasis on the “message” over policy comes about because our politicians are professionals. They have studied Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) at University, they have worked for older politicians and they now understand the mechanisms of power without ever having done anything in their lives which would give them any understanding of the real world. When Ed Milliband talks about “families who work all the hours that God sends” he is talking in the abstract. He has no experience of these people any more than the rest of our political elite. Cameron and Osborne have not worked in mines or in factories. Clegg has never worked in a call centre. None of the current lot have worked as union representatives, charity workers, doctors, programmers, supermarket workers or taxi drivers. Just as bad, none have ever been captains of industry or entrepreneurs or bankers in The City. Their experience of life is gained through reviewing reports and statistical analyses. They study us like we are bacteria in a petri dish and no more empathise with our lives than a scientist empathises with a lab rat.
This week even The Economist ran an article which finished: “The risks of promoting awkward talent and sacking the spin doctor are obvious……..but the alternative….is worse. It is to become ever more ingenious, hated and irrelevant”. Labour seem oblivious. They think that hiring a bigger better media wonk from across the pond will hand them power on a plate. They’ll figure out what to do with power once they’ve got it.
This is why Nigel Farage is like a breath of fresh air. People like him even if they don’t agree with him. They like him because his arguments are reasoned and sincere. They like him because his reactions are human and appear in stark contrast to the rows of pre-programed pillocks who front the other parties.
In the recent debates between Nigel Farage and Nick Clegg it was interesting to note that the question of how much legislation the UK receives from the EU came up twice. In the first debate Farage quoted 75% and Clegg 7%. The topic arose again in the second debate only this time Farage had had the sense to research Clegg’s figure of 7% and had discovered this was for primary legislation and the very same document quoted an overall amount of about 50%. When confronted with this Clegg could only lamely restate his figure of 7%.
Clegg had come on telly to use his PPE erudition to dismiss a jumped up oik but was not on top of his brief. A researcher had obviously given him the 7% figure and he didn’t care where it had come from. He believed in the EU as an article of faith and used statistics as weapons of rhetoric not constituents of rational argument.
So, given New Labour’s appalling record on spin. Given the abject failure of the Ed & Ed show. Given Cameron’s ludicrous efforts to emulate Blair’s spin by dog sledding around Lapland. Given that Clegg’s professionalism was demolished by Farage’s charisma and homework. Given the massive discrediting of the whole British establishment. Given the fact that the UK is amongst the top 7 most unequal society in the world, with the rich hoarding power and the rest of us herded around by “nudge theory” embedded in a massive and ubiquitous marketing machine. On TV, on the radio, on billboards, on football pitches, on smart phones (on this blog site!) Everywhere we look the political/industrial complex is exhorting us that the only way out of our economic problems is more of the same. Work more, consume more and to hell with the planet.
Given the disillusionment of the British public with professional politics, what do Labour do? Do they have a policy rethink? Do they take a step backward toward socialism? Do they take a step forward with radical new policies?
No. They outsource marketing to America. You couldn’t make it up.
Why not just hand the Palace of Westminster over to Price Waterhouse Coopers and be done with it?