Archive | Politics RSS feed for this section


13 Nov

John Harris has written an extended feature on Matthew Freud’s connections to the worlds of politics, media and celebrity. It reads rather like an appendix to Miller and Dinan’s A Century of Spin: the author can’t quite pin his subject down, but clearly senses there’s something wrong in someone having this much influence.

Having a famous great-grandfather, being the son of well-known MP and broadcaster, having Rupert Murdoch as father-in-law must confer advantages. I suspect it encouraged him to take risks, because you can see Freud’s progress as an entrepreneurial success story – how someone who did not go to university built a business and became connected to the most powerful people in the country. He’s earned the money he’s spending on private jets and lavish parties, though John Harris sees him as the Great Gatsby of our age.


5 Nov

Faced with a financial crisis and with growing cynicism about party politics, we needed this. The US election campaign has been compelling, dignified and engaging.

That both candidates for president were to some extent outsiders has helped. As commentators have pointed out, president-elect Obama has defeated in turn the two most powerful political machines in the US: the Clintons and the Republicans.

Of course, money still talks. But Obama has raised the money he’s spent, mostly from small donations. His victory shows the groundswell in action, as well as reminding us of the power of rhetoric to effect change.

Peter’s friends

22 Oct

For me, the most interesting narrative – the only interesting narrative – of the story concerning George Osborne, Peter Mandelson, Oleg Deripaska and Nat Rothschild is this: Don’t mess with Mandelson.

It appears to be his revenge for the leaked private conversation from a Corfu taverna that caused embarrassment when he was recalled to the UK government. That’s certainly the angle taken by the Daily Mail. In revenge, Mandelson – through friends – has turned the news spotlight on George Osborne.

I don’t expect this story to run and run, though the BBC’s Nick Robinson thinks it may still have legs. At times in the last 24 hours, it has seemed this is the biggest story on the BBC since the Large Bank-run Collider.

For students who may not recall his earlier role in the creation of New Labour, the noble lord is sometimes viewed as a ‘prince of darkness’ – a modern Machiavelli.

The honourable gentleman is . . . a spin doctor

25 Feb

What do you do if you unwittingly mislead the press based on the information you’ve been given?

If you’re senior government communicator Mike Granatt, you resign.

The moral dimension of political PR has never been better dissected than in Spin Cycle by Howard Kurtz, a book about Bill Clinton’s White House propaganda machine. His spokesperson Mike McCurry managed to retain his reputation for honesty and openness in the face of daily inquisition by the media. At times he only achieved this by avoiding asking direct questions of his boss.

Leaks, damn leaks and assassins

9 Jan

Amidst all the discussion of Charles Kennedy’s removal as Liberal Democrat leader in recent days, little has been said about the campaign to force his resignation.

On the one hand, it was a triumphantly successful whispering campaign. Triumphant in that it achieved its objective whilst largely concealing the identities of the assassins (because there were so many: ‘et tu Brute’). Ever since the anticipated departure was leaked to Andrew Neil’s late night political programme before Christmas, the pressure had been mounting on Kennedy. In the event, it became a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Yet two dangers remain. One is of a backlash by party members (who should have a vote for Kennedy’s successor) against the conspirators. If the favourite (Menzies Campbell) becomes implicated in the plot, then there will surely be a swing against him.

The other is a reaction by the electorate at large. The appeal of the Liberal Democrats has largely been that they’re not Labour and not the Conservatives; unsullied by national power, they have been seen as a principled, even ‘nice’, party. This act of ruthlessness sends a confusing signal and they are sure to suffer in the polls.

In a few years time, I predict that Charles Kennedy will be held in rather higher esteem.

The drugs question

16 Oct

On The Message on Friday, Anne Gregory and others gave the opinion that ‘truth will out’ and that David Cameron would be well advised to make a statement to clear up the suspicion about his possible past involvement in hard drugs. I don’t agree.

There’s no right answer to the question ‘did you take drugs as a student?’. ‘No’, if truthful, would seem the best position. But Conservative politicians are keenly aware of the experience of William Hague: fashionably unprivileged upbringing in South Yorkshire, outstanding academic mind (Oxford First), bright McKinsey consultant, brilliant performer in Parliament. So bright, so political, such a prodigy that he did not communicate well with the people who held his future in their hands in the polling station. William Hague would have benefited from appearing to have a more ‘normal’ past – though he was ridiculed for the baseball cap and the story about drinking 14 pints. Sometimes you can try too hard.

If the drugs question is answered, then what answer do you give to these: Have you ever driven over the speed limit in a built-up area? Did you have pre-marital sex? Have you had an extra-marital affair? Do you pick your nose in private? The last one is ridiculous, but it makes a point. If the answer given is ‘no’, then we suspect you’re lying. And picture editors will pay good money for the image that seems to prove it. You’re inviting further intrusion into your privacy. Is ‘yes’ a better answer, then? It establishes that you’re willing to give a straight answer to any question that’s asked of you, so the chase is back on to find a question that would embarrass you. Don’t go there.

Who’d be a politician? And do we want to be represented only by saints and the sanctimonious? How did Bill Clinton survive the public shredding of his private affairs and get re-elected in a nation with a strong Puritan tendency? In Spin Cycle, Howard Kurtz tells the compelling story of PR under pressure in the Clinton White House.

A lord, not a god

10 May

Great name, interesting career. Andrew Adonis has completed his political rise through elevation to the House of Lords, allowing him to serve as a government minister.

I recall him as an Liberal Democrat Oxford city councillor. For a fuller account of his changing career and political allegiances, I’m impressed how up-to-the-minute his Wikipedia entry is.

Political PRs

5 May

There’s a UK general election today (and county council elections also). A colleague has spent the last two days in a helicopter touring marginal constituencies, though he’s back in time to assess student presentations today.

I’m aware of two PR consultants who are standing for parliament. Clive Booth of Lewis PR in York; and Ed Vaizey in Wantage. The latter seems ashamed of his PR background, preferring instead to state that he was a partner of a ‘small business’ who works as a freelance journalist. Both are Conservatives though you can find PR consultants actively campaigning for all three main parties.

Later: ePolitix has a fuller account of the advent of many aides and advisers.

Later still: How could I forget Rob Wilson, a former consultancy colleague who has just become an Conservative MP?

The rise of single issues

16 Mar

Here’s one paradox: the rise in single issue activism goes together with a decline in party political membership and election turnout. Here’s another paradox: the question whether it’s the role of the media to report events or to set the agenda for public opinion.

Kirsty Milne addresses these issues in an analysis piece in yesterday’s Guardian and in a free Demos publication to be launched tomorrow.

These topics were also addressed in a report from the Parliamentary Office for Science and Technology: The Great GM Food Debate published in 2000.

Speechwriter to schoolteacher

7 Feb

Peter Hyman’s description of his move from heading the 10 Downing Street strategic communications unit to teaching in an inner-city school is a media talking point today.

There’s an extract in The Guardian (free subscription) containing a riveting description of what it’s like to work on a Prime Minister’s keynote speech at a party conference.