Magazine article The Spectator

The Conquest of Spin

Magazine article The Spectator

The Conquest of Spin

Article excerpt

Listening to that cheerful chappie Charlie Whelan, Gordon Brown's former spin doctor, on Radio Four on Monday evening, I began to wonder if one day there might be a retirement home for elderly practitioners of this relatively recent black art. One can easily imagine the dialogue.

Charlie looks up crossly from his copy of the Sun and says to Bernard with a chuckle, `Remember that time when I said a tax increase was a tax cut? This lot today, they don't know what spin-doctoring is!' `Oh, yes,' replies Bernard, smoothing the signed but now creased photograph of Margaret Thatcher that he carries everywhere, 'I do. Yes, you got away with that until the lovely Amanda called them stealth taxes: `Ho, ho,' laughs Charlie, full of admiration. `By the way, where's old Hainesey this morning?' `Joe? Young Mandy's come to take him out for the day, to meet the Queen at his stately home.' `Which queen?' demands Charlie, starved of gossip. `The Queen of course. She's nearly 100 now, y'know, and she dotes on him."Oh... I see Spurs lost last night.'

Naturally, Why People Hate on Radio Four wasn't exactly like that, but this week's programme was about spin doctors and why they're hated. There was, however, a hint of triumphalism about the conquest of spin doctors over democratic debate and truth. Whelan, the presenter, and now a media figure, still can't understand why people dislike spin doctors, asking himself, `Was I really so bad? Was I more spinned against than spinning?' Who knows? And who cares about the paid liars? We don't elect the Whelans and Alastair Campbells. Ian Hislop, though, the editor of Private Eye, said, `Spin doctor is just a synonym for propagandist at best and liar at worst.' He thought that, ultimately, Tony Blair was the real spin doctor, with or without Campbell. He didn't think the Tories were very good at it. But organised lying is more difficult than it seems. With Labour, as always, the end justifies the means; Conservatives generally don't think like that which is why, on the whole, the Tories lack the will or expertise.

Whelan interviewed Neil Kinnock who is thought to have started the modern spindoctor trend along with Peter Mandelson. Kinnock was still keen to claim the credit for Labour's Red Rose, attributed to Mandelson at the time of the 1992 election, which, we must remind ourselves, Labour lost. He was proud to have come up with the idea himself. …

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