OPINION: Blair’s new arrival reveals reliance on spin

The late Henry James, who served more prime ministers in the No 10 press office than anyone else, used to tell a good story about Harold Wilson, the arch-manipulator of the media. When Wilson rang up from the Scilly Isles during a bad period for his Government to find out what the Evening Standard was leading with, James replied: ’An absolutely awful, grisly murder.’ Quick as a flash, Wilson remonstrated: ’You have gone too far this time, Henry.’

The late Henry James, who served more prime ministers in the No 10

press office than anyone else, used to tell a good story about Harold

Wilson, the arch-manipulator of the media. When Wilson rang up from the

Scilly Isles during a bad period for his Government to find out what the

Evening Standard was leading with, James replied: ’An absolutely awful,

grisly murder.’ Quick as a flash, Wilson remonstrated: ’You have gone

too far this time, Henry.’



I hope Alastair Campbell said something similar to Tony Blair last week

when the news broke that Cherie is to have a fourth baby at 45. It seems

unlikely, since it usefully, if temporarily, diverted attention from the

incomparable cock-up over Labour’s candidature for the mayoralty of

London; the Queen’s Speech assault on the motorist; and the continued

failure to sort out France’s wilful refusal to admit British beef -

until Jeffrey Archer ruined a good week for William Hague.



On the substance of the issue, we are all no doubt enjoying the

apparently happy consequences of a Blairite marital accident. The

prospect of the first prime ministerial birth since Lord John Russell

151 years ago would be a first-class news event under any government.

Its significance, real or imagined, would be exhaustively explored. But

such is this Government’s reliance on spin, diversion and clever

dickery, that its release is automatically assumed to have had an

ulterior motive. And when Max Clifford and Piers Morgan, editor of The

Mirror, are involved and The Sun spoils a Mirror world scoop by means of

a convenient mobile phone call, you can be pretty certain all is not

what the participants would wish it to seem. You become convinced when

you hear what they have to say for themselves.



Scoop of the year, my foot. Plant of the year, more like. The inevitable

conclusion is that the embryonic Blair babe has been hijacked in the

womb for commercial and political purposes, even if the precise

political ploy is not absolutely clear. Its gestation and early life

will reverberate up and down the newspaper columns and over the airwaves

for months, nay years. This is a pity, since Mr Blair otherwise

proclaims his reasonable determination to protect his children from

media intrusion.



Yet it is, in fact, the only way you would expect this Government to

handle such an event. It seems to have no strategic PR grasp

whatsoever.



Everything is subordinated to immediate advantage. The pregnancy would

have been better handled by an early, pre-emptive general announcement

on as neutral a day as possible through the Press Association, coupled

with a request to allow nature to take its course with the minimum of

fuss. It is through incidents like this that we come to know the real

nature of our governments. It is also how governments fix their fates.



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