Sunday, September 25, 2005

Why spin doctors don't matter

It was the media what won it, argues Simon Isledon on The Liberal. He blames the party's press officers for the way stories about dissatisfaction with Charles Kennedy's leadership dominated coverage of the Liberal Democrat Conference.

I wonder. It is true that the party's press operation has often left a lot to be desired. One of the reasons that members of the Liberator editorial collective appear in the media so regularly during conference week is that there are lots of journalists wandering around conference, desperate for someone to explain what is going on to them. We are happy to oblige.

But one of the characteristics of our age is that we overestimate the importance of people like press officers in politics. Take Alastair Campbell. In the years before New Labour won its first election he acquired the most colossal reputation - part bully, part magician.

Yet when he acted as press office for the British Lions rugby tour earlier this year no one praised his efforts. They were either ignored or slated. No one said: "The team lost all three tests horribly, but I thought the press operation was first rate."

Similarly, Campbell acquired his reputation in the years running up to 1997 because it was obvious from a long way out that Blair was going to win. Therefore political journalists had to establish good relations with him and his future cabinet ministers. Therefore Campbell had great power over them.

So stories about people having doubts about Charles Kennedy did not feature in the press because of failings by Cowley Street staff. They featured because a lot of people in the party do have doubts about the current leadership.

I am afraid press officers are just not that important.

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