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Home > Politics

I Am The Way, The Truth And The Life...

Downing Street's new spinmeister draws inspiration from that great heroine of New Labour, Mrs Thatcher.

Charlie Skelton

7 September 2003

Number 10’s new head of PR, Dave Hill, gave a lecture back in May to the Labour History Group. Apparently, in this lecture: Mr Hill said Labour could learn from the communications strategy of Lady Thatcher.

Here’s a quote from Hill: "Mrs Thatcher was talking the talk. She was talking to the press and she was talking to the public. You actually have to talk to the electorate."

Seems like Blair is turning into Thatcher from the inside out. He's already got the policies. Now he's looking to get the presentation. All he'll need then is the hair.

Speaking of Maggie, there was an interesting exchange earlier on this week’s Test The Nation. It came after the question: who was Thatcher quoting in 1979 when she said: "Where there is discord, may we bring harmony; where there is error, may we bring truth; where there is doubt, may we bring faith..." The answer was St Francis. Then there was an open discussion about Thatcher in which virtually everyone praised her as a "strong-minded, independent woman" - a feminist icon - which, it seems, is how she is going to be remembered: as a great WOMAN. Never mind what she actually said and did - she was a WOMAN and STRONG. Therefore a feminist icon. I can't help thinking that's a retarded sort of sort of moral mathematics. What does that make Lady Macbeth? Lucretia Borgia...? Anyway, after all this praising of Thatcher's strength and independence, Anne Diamond asked Lawrence Llewelyn-Bowen: "Are you keen on Mrs T?" to which Laurence replied: "Well, I couldn't finish a whole one." Well I laughed, if no one else did.

Back to Hill.

Even more worrying than the near-complete Thatcherization of Blair is this business:

"You actually have to talk to the electorate."

What Hill has said is that he wants Blair to eschew traditional news briefings for more "direct" channels: "if you are worried about the prism of the media - be it broadcasters or writing journalists [who] consistently distort what you have got to say - then the one way you avoid distortion is by saying it direct..."

What does this mean in practical terms: this plan to sidestep "the prism of the media" - and to speak "directly"? Well, according to the report in the Independent: "[Hill] hinted that the Prime Minister should do more direct television interviews, cutting out the traditional news media in favour of chat shows such as Parkinson ..."

Oh yes, Blair should get quite a grilling from non-nonsense Parky. "Can I just ask, Mr Prime Minister, if I may, have you always had this talent for honesty or is it something you've acquired through hard work...?"

Or maybe Blair would prefer something softer, less confrontational. Does Katie Hanks have a talk show?

This movement towards softer presentation (without the threat of nasty 'loaded' questions from journalists - ouch! - they hurt!) is really scary - because it means that Blair will be feeding unchallenged spin right into the eyes and ears of the people. "Direct" communication is the spinster's dream. No criticism, no commentary, no questions, just talk. The news media are being quietly and efficiently moved out of the way. And if they refuse to budge, they're pushed - c.f. this from Greg Palast:

"What happens is that American journalists who are critical get cut off. If you give a real report, they'll never let you interview Colin Powell... I got to tell you right now on BBC, the Prime Minister will not speak to me. No member of the Cabinet will speak to me on camera. Now, if that happened to me in the U.S.A., I would simply be fired. They'd say well, we can't use this guy. At least the BBC says, well, we can't let the Prime Minister tell us who to hire and fire, you know?"

(Heaven forbid that a journalist might be critical. It's just not right and proper. On which point: how does Trevor Kavanagh sleep at night?)

Criticism is part of the evil prism, which has to be destroyed so that the light of Blair might spread throughout the land unimpeded. I find that comment of Hill's about the prism incredibly revealing. Prisms are bad because they refract. What Hill wants is the media to be transparent to spin. He doesn't want his distortions to be distorted. He wants transparency between government and the people, because only that way can we hear what Blair is "really" saying, and see what he is "really" like. And what a wonderful world it will be! We won't have any nasty people getting in the way, with their nasty confusing questions. We'll just have the truth, pure and simple. And then we can all sleep peacefully in our cosy beds, warm and contented and secure.

As Thatcher said: "Where there is doubt, may we bring faith..."

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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