Monday 20 April 2009

A New Phase of Politcal Spin?

Following last week’s revelations that the Labour party spin doctor Damien McBride had sent emails to a Labour Party blogger, suggesting smear stories to use against leading Tories. The Sunday Times yesterday published more stories claiming that the school’s secretary Ed Balls had previously used McBride to smear ministerial rivals in order to advance his own political ambitions.

When Gordon Brown took power in 2007 it was meant to be an end to the era of spin within this government, but what seems to have happened is that political spin within the Labour party has not only continued unchecked, but has mutated into something even more cynical, more aggressive and unscrupulous then anyone could ever have imagined.

Having read these stories it made me think a bit more on the culture of political PR, communication and spin-doctoring and how political debates and battles are increasingly being fought in a war of information. I fully accept that political briefings and spin have always been a feature of politics, but I’m beginning to think that we’re entering a new phase in these ‘dark arts’ that we have not witnessed before.

Previously I had viewed political spin as a method by which one could distract attention from unfavourable stories, promote stories through intentional leaks, concealing bad news stories by releasing them on busy news days, suppressing news stories in order to provide exclusives at a later date.

But following the Damien McBride scandal, political spin now appears to include promoting rumour and lies in order to de-stabilise political enemies both within and outside of the Labour party. Part of me finds the whole thing unsavoury, I know that politics is a dirty and at times brutal business, but even I’m beginning to think this is a step to far.

These types of strategic communication techniques and strategies are not really new and have actually been used by intelligence agencies around the world for many years. During the Cold War the CIA routinely fabricated stories for release with the aim of putting pressure on the Soviet Union and to attack those groups that were perceived to be unfriendly to the US and nations that were viewed to associating closely with the Soviet Union.

Since the terrorist attacks on 9/11 and the subsequent war in Iraq and Afghanistan the US has intensified its use of information and communication as a weapon in its ‘War on Terror’ Surely the biggest form of fabrication and disinformation was the supposed ‘Weapons of Mass destruction’. But now many of these same methods are being used in party politics.

I thought it was really disappointing that it took Gordon Brown so long to actually come out and apologise by saying sorry when to begin with he merely expressed his regret at the incident. I except that Brown would have been unaware of the emails from McBride to Draper, but according to many reports there have been a number of Labour ministers and cabinet members who had complained previously about the practices and behaviour of McBride.

It’s hard to believe that some of these reports did not make there way back to Gordon Brown. He must take some form of responsibility as head of the government in which this sort of practice and behaviour is clearly part of the culture and tolerated.

Reading in yesterday’s News of the World, they reported an exclusive Ipsos Mori poll, which showed that almost 40% of voters and 1 and 4 Labour voters believed the affair had damaged the government. I don’t know what other affect it could have had, but you would think the government had more pressing concerns at the moment.

We have the worst economic conditions since the Second World War, stories of ministers abusing the parliamentary expenses system, and as a government deep into its third term there is the natural challenge of trying to appear fresh and new to the electorate which understandably as grown tired with a party which has been in power now for 12 years. Instead we get political gossip, rumour and unscrupulous methods of political manoeuvring within government.

Although the Tories are leading in the polls it seems to be more because people are now tired and dissatisfied with the government, rather then because there is this huge wave of enthusiasm and belief in the Tories.

There are still large areas of policy that the Tories do not seem to have formed a coherent opinion, but the events of the last few weeks gives the impression that the government is not interested in such things.

I can’t really see the government recovering from this latest scandal which seems to be just another nail in the coffin, but although the next election will not be won and lost on this incident alone, it shouldn’t be forgotten, as the public need to show our political establishment that they are not prepared to accept this sort of behaviour.

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