Thursday, June 14, 2007

Who is the Better Spin Doctor - a Princess or a Prime Minister?

As Tony Blair’s long goodbye comes to an end, he offered a final damming report about twenty-four hour media coverage, claiming “the media is a feral beast, tearing people to pieces.” His parting shot asserted that the media make no distinction between fact, comment and news. Instead being more concerned with sensationalising stories and boosting their diminishing ratings.

Yet, it was Tony Blair who built his leadership upon the culture of spin that became the hallmark of New Labour. Even before he became leader in 1994, Tony Blair was courting the media stating, “it is better to ride the tiger’s back than to let it rip your throat out.”

It was under his watch that the ‘Labour media machine’ was well oiled, offered pre-emptive strikes, round the clock monitoring and ruthless spin doctoring. Journalists were handled with a combination of flattery and bullying, given stories if they played ball and frozen out if they did not. Perhaps in recent years the spin became bigger than the man himself, with the unforgettable collision between government and media, over the ‘two war dossiers’ and then the ‘Hutton inquiry’ into Dr Kelly’s death.

His departing speech sounded somewhat reminiscent of Earl Spencer's moving funeral address at Westminster Abbey about the media's 'sneering' reporting of Princess Diana. There is little doubt she would have agreed with the majority of her brothers’ remarks, particularly his line about her being 'the most hunted person of the modern age'. However, the Princess was far from being 'baffled' by the media. On the contrary, all the evidence suggests that she understood them only too well, and worked diligently to bring them 'on side’, as much the wooer as the wooed.

Following the canonization of her memory, it now seems shocking to recall the Princess as she really was. But while she was alive her skill and adeptness at manipulating the media was widely recognised, as was the fact that during the latter years of her 'loveless' marriage to Prince Charles the tabloids had been one of her greatest weapons. Who can forget the poignancy for instance, of that lone shot of her in front of the Taj Mahal and the endless comment it sparked about the Princess's isolation and her 'unrequited love'? She herself set up that famous photograph, and as one tabloid editor put it: 'She was a great politician, a great spin doctor.'

Who knows if Tony Blair will want his very own ‘Taj Mahal’ photo shoot as he leaves Downing Street. But for now, his answer to the media has been in true New Labour style, perhaps the only answer he knows, regulation. He suggested that all media mediums should come under the umbrella of a new ‘European regulatory body’, to be fully accountable to more than just viewing figures and reading ratings. Perhaps this is the most fitting end to his reign. He has ended, ten years on, the same way as he started, wanting and trying to control the headlines.


David Anthony said...

Excellent piece Michelle. It's sad that he really can't see his own role in creating the 'feral' culture of the press today.

And, I think he will have been planning his final day for a long time now.

Anonymous said...

What an amazing piece of writing.

will watch with interest as things unravel over the coming weeks.


Ian Lidster said...

I found Blair's leave-taking diatribe against the media repellant (since I am part of the media scum for part of my life), hypocritical and outrageously dishonest. He and the atrocious at so many levels, Cherie, are two of the biggest media 'sucks' in the political business. Cheap-shot nonsense by a cheap-shot PM in my esteem. I may not be a UK citizen, but I do have my biases.

Anonymous said...

great blog- as always !!

simon said...

yep I agree. SAdly most people swallow the media drivel far too easily

Maalie said...

It is hard to disagree with any of this. However, wouldn't you agree that all politicians of whatever persuasion are apt to resort to spin? I think that is why the electorate is getting so mistrustful of politics/politicians, and why election turn-out is so low these days.

(I have left a comment also on the post below.)

Crushed said...

I liked this piece. I agree with you on Diana. I never liked the woman and found myself embarrassed by the attempts to portray her as a saint, given her behaviour in the time before her death and the fact that we quite obviously have a cuckoo in the royal nest, courtesy of Diana and Major Hewitt.

What made it more sickening was that Mother Theresa- a real saint- died at the same time- and nobody seemed to notice.

Dr Michelle Tempest said...

Thanks for all these comments. Your kind words make blogging even more worthwhile.
Thanks to all the commenters and readers.