Will Gordon Brown want to ’spin an antispin campaign’ following Blair’s Reuters speech?

Last Friday I was in London and had the privilege, as Honorary Fellow of the CIPR, to participate to the Annual Fellows Luncheon which is held in the austere House of Lords, in the Cholmondeley Room: a truly fantastic setting on a gorgeous day overlooking the River Thames.

I will not tell you all the gossip which old cronies like us tell one another when we meet once a year…but I will tell you about the truly brilliant presentation offered by the very, very bright Andrew Hawkins from Communicate Research which focussed on post Blair politics.
And this because some of the remarks have direct reference to many contents of this blog. Also, I will end up with an amusing story I had never heard before (but you might have heard it one hundred times before…), which has to do with Premier’s McMillan great reply to an ugly question on his wife from an American journalist.
Andrew, supported by charts with many numbers and sophisticated arguments, said that Tony Blair’s move out of Downing Street in the next few days and Gordon Brown’s entrance will in no way cause a call to anticipated political elections.
To the contrary, all other variables being equal, he said that the incoming Premier will remain in office until the last day of the legislature (2010), and election results then will likely give conservative more votes than labour, but not sufficiently to run the country effectively, thus it will take some time following elections for conservative David Cameron to be able to really govern.
The point is, he said, that while Brown will have no will to call for elections if he is not absolutely sure that labour will comfortably win (and this is very unlikely to happen), conservatives will also not press too much because they are well aware that the relative majority they will be able to obtain will not be sufficient to effectively lead the country.
Thus the stalemate.
In describing three different methods to interpret political public opinion trends Andrew cited the popular belief that issues such as health, education, immigration or the war in Iraq and others are the primary shapers of voter decision; then he said what he identified as the late xxth century belief that voter choices are shaped mostly by their perception of party leaderships; finally he hinted to a third model of interpretation, which he believes is more adequate today, related to the concept of political party branding where party unity and activist, as well as leadership, day-to-day behaviours have a growing relevance in the ballot box.
He also claimed that online elections will be on by 2010 and that the apathy curve which has over the years reduced the number of voters will by that time register an upspring, bringing voter participation back, at least temporarily, to what it was some ten years ago.
He finally mentioned a point which has great relevance for us public relators. In enumerating Brown’s attitudes Andrew clearly indicated communication ability as the new Premier’s first weakness.
(By the way, today and independently from Andrew’s presentation, on www.spinwatch.org Nicholas Jones addresses an open letter to Michael Ellam, Brown’s newly appointed spokesperson, suggesting various communication policy changes, which are useful also for our day-to-day work).
Getting back to Brown’s weakness, of which he is well aware, and his notorious disrespect for spin, it could very well be that -particularly after Tony Blair’s recent Reuters speech in which he adamantly reproached himself for having been, in his early ‘cool Britannia’ years as well as during the whole Irak affair, at least partly responsible for having injected the country and the british media by horse’s dose of spin- the new Premier will possibly wish to ‘spin an antispin campaign’…and this, for a CIPR only one year after having received a Chartered status and with only one year to go to hosting the fifth World Public Relations Conference and Festival on The Public Benefit of Public Relations, could be a blessing or a headache according to the degree of its willingness to go out public, much more public than it has in past (although it is only fair to say that it has been more open and adamant on this issue than any other professional association I can think of). We shall see.
And now to the McMillan story I promised: the premier was visiting Washington DC during the Jack Kennedy presidency and went with his host to the usual closing White House press conference. During the q&a period a journalist asked him bluntly to comment the widespread rumour that Lady McMillan had become a drunkard….
Silence and embarrassment in the whole room…. Jack Kennedy, taken off guard, quickly moves close to the British Premier as if to protect him and begins muttering something like ‘lets cut it off here…’. McMillan amicably stops him and, while pointing his finger directly at the journalist, loudly replied ‘ and you haven’t yet even met her mother….’ .
Well….I confess, it’s much better said than written down….

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4 Replies to “Will Gordon Brown want to ’spin an antispin campaign’ following Blair’s Reuters speech?

  1. Great post. I also think that the future of Spin ( after the era of Social Networks) will follow the zenith of Black PR attacks or the moment where building someone’ reputation/image won’t be enough to achieve the seeking goals. Turning against your rivals is the most logical thing you can do, especially when the new technologies allow you to perform this in a legal way . Don’t get me wrong ! This is not a good thing , but I believe what’s even worse is that most of the PR professionals are not aware of the term and the ways it operates

  2. Toni,

    We have a debate in the UK about what it is to be ‘British’ it is part of the debate about immigration and citizenship.

    How can we offer citizenship. Is it by asking questions about history places or Yorkshire humour or the children of the Queen.

    Such ideas fail in a cacophony of debate about the questions. What we are really talking about is the ‘values held by the British nation’. Tough call!

    When it comes to looking at such debates in conversations, and watching blogs and social networks something strange happens. The trust of the electorate in government evaporates. The agenda of the media is questioned. Aunty BBC is said to have ‘an agenda’.

    The debate moves away from the media and dominant coalition. The dominant coalition always attempts to keep control. It uses noise, spin and propaganda but in the end that is not enough. Fooling all the people all the time is less possible now that ever before. The easy option for the commons is to discard the newspaper AND television.

    Ofcom report: ‘In every country surveyed, broadband usage appears linked to a decline in conventional television viewing. On average around one-third of consumers with broadband access said they watch less television since going online.’ http://tinyurl.com/yucdku

    The move to television, it would seem, is not a neat switch. It is evidence of a move away from conventional (dominant coalition/Establishment) channels for communication.

    Based on a range of values, groups form. They move outside the traditional semantic structure of the Establishment. They have the capability to wrest power from the establishment.

    It is the preliminary to revolution.

    The Italian Establishment has this problem and its true in the US too.

    I am not suggesting that either country is heading for revolution, that is one of the advantages of democracy. Astute politicians pitch up on the dissonance between the values of the Establishment and the commons and exploit it for power.

    We can now examine the role of public relations. The ‘eyes and ears’ of the commons.

    The conversations of the commons are there for all to hear. TGhey are in the work places and cafes, the blogs and Twitering. Far too much to analyse.

    But we can see where there are coalescences. In other words we do not have to look at a mass of blogs. They are however social groups – the nexus of values of a group of people.

    It is these active groups that give us the clue to the value systems that are significant to governments.

    There is much more to be said on this topic.

    If convergent values systems form a nexus of relationships, am I describing an organisations? I posit this is the case.

    Do convergent value systems form a nexus of relationships, is this the nature of nationhood?

    We need more research.

    But it is a working hypothesis that would explain a lot of the discord in and among nations and countries.

  3. A reputed Italian intellectual, Giancarlo Bosetti, has just published a pamphlet with the publisher Marsilio called SPIN. In an interview he gave me which was published recently on the Ferpi website (for readers in Italian please go to http://www.ferpi.it and digit his name in the ‘cerca nel sito’ area)he says (and strikingly demonstrates) that public policies in my country today are no longer driven by the elaboration of respected pundits in study centers, or by political parties… but by prime hour television news. Even daily newspapers have fallen behind (in fact in Italy many contents of the first pages of dailies are themselves dictated by prime time televisions news), while social media are growing as a source of policy making, but still low down the line.
    This is why, he claims, spin is so much more important today than it was even a few years ago.
    He also claims that in the United States a similar phenomenon is catching on.
    Let’s for a moment believe him and analyse the consequences on our profession, at least in my country…
    a- not only my generation, but also the one who followed us, we were brought up thinking that newspaper attention were really what we needed to attract to our thematizations in order to be professionally effective. Although in my country the first vnr’s date back to the late seventies, television is still not considered to this day, by my peers, as a primary tool. This is absolutely crazy, but it is true. Of course there are exceptions, but overall this is how it is.

    Now, David, let me ask you a question: would you be willing to elaborate, in the specific context of aligning the values system between a government and the governed, as you say, a list of titles of competencies required of an effective public relations professional dealing on behalf of a government in orde to align the latter’s value system to that of the governed and, of course, viceversa??? Thank you, I would be very grateful.

  4. I am sorry to have missed you last week. Anne and I had a prior appointment.

    The political economy approach to media and communications described by Wittel no longer apply. Notably: Culture, communications and media that were considered objects that carry symbolic value and are considered commodities that can be produced, distributed and consumed no longer has a credible basis in an era of ubiquitous communication; production and consumption of media, culture and communications were viewed as being distinct practices but no more in an era of citizen journalism such as blogging, wiki editing, video etc – the consumer of editorial is also the producer. Those who control the means of production and distribution of media, culture and communications possessed greater power than consumers but now the balance of power has shifted in favour of the consumer. This means that interventions by organisations and governments to develop their business have to be at a strategic level because almost everything it does is under the gaze (blazing netshine) of the online community and those it interacts with.

    When the commons is always able to contribute, aligning values of government and governed is not about shaping opinion but understanding dissonance between value systems. Understanding what this means is hard and for politicians whose very purpose is power.

    Is this anarchy? I think not. The nature of mankind is not anarchistic, we are social animals. Given the opportunity to be involved in social evolution is an exciting prospect for peoples all over the world. It is grown up Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

    It very definitely is not about spin.

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