THE RECENT ‘smear-gate’ scandal concerning the sacked and shamed government aide, Damian McBride, typifies the “wheeler dealer, shoot from the hip” spin doctor culture created by the former Prime Minister, Tony Blair. Thirty years a Political Correspondent for the BBC, Nick Jones made the remarks as the guest speaker at the media lecture series, Coventry Conversations earlier today.
He said government aides like McBride possessed “unbridled power” and had “sown the seeds for their downfall”. “In 1997,” Jones continued, “Blair changed the balance of power in Downing Street. He allowed Alastair Campbell’s writ to run through Whitehall, and it was Blair who increased the network of spin doctors and allowed them to manipulate the flow of information from the state to the public.”
Jones revealed that throughout his time at the BBC, he had been subjected to bouts of vilification on a number of occasions, but even he was surprised that government aides like McBride would “stoop as low” by concocting lies that would not only disrepute the politicians falsely, but their families, too.
He said this was just one of the many examples that highlighted the increasing trend of “institutionalised leaking” where sensationalist information is exchanged between politicians and reporters “like a currency”. He added that if the Conservatives were to win the next general election, they too “will be as addicted to spin as New Labour”.
“I really cannot see an incoming Conservative Prime Minister such as David Cameron wanting to turn his back on the possibility of employing these young political activists who have become the spin doctors of today. It will be interesting if he ever gives an assurance that his MPs will stop or refrain from exploiting uncorroborated stories they pick up on the web.”
Even Jones was surprised that government aides like McBride would “stoop as low” by concocting lies that would not only disrepute the politicians falsely, but their families, too.
Jones was unsympathetic towards the Prime Minister’s claims that he had no prior knowledge of McBride’s activities, arguing that he knew what his aides got up to, although not necessarily the exact details of these. He argued that politics and the media shared a “loves fest” which was present in a more virulent and intense form in the UK than in many developed countries.
“Our national newspapers are politicised in a way they are not in other countries. The politicians and spin doctors, therefore, want to use this to their advantage. I think it has gone too far, because the danger is more people choosing not to believe politicians or the media.”
When Gordon Brown took office as the Labour party leader and Prime Minister of the UK in June 2007, he promised to clean up the world of politics – a message he reiterated when issuing an apology to David Cameron and his colleagues some time after the emails were leaked to the press. The Prime Minister said cleaning up politics was “the most important thing” he could do.
Image courtesy of Jason Craig