Farewell to politics' first lady of spin

Thank heavens for social media. Traditional media moved this week from Thatcher eulogy to hagiography in a heartbeat.

Ruth Wyatt: 'Superficially one of the most PR-unfriendly world leaders, The Iron Lady was the proto-spin buyer.'
Ruth Wyatt: 'Superficially one of the most PR-unfriendly world leaders, The Iron Lady was the proto-spin buyer.'

Social media were the outlet for the outpouring of residual anger and hatred the UK's most divisive and controversial leader caused in life, and the means through which celebrations of her death were organised.

No, it wasn't pretty. Or respectful, or dignified, but it was a useful contrast.

The woman's legacy - as technically she was female, despite being by far the strongest man in government in generations - is complicated.

From the PR profession's point of view, Thatcher's legacy is the introduction of PR to the heart of government. She was the first British politician to take advice on style and presentation. Although by the end of her reign she had reverted to mad-eyed/dictatorial/imperious performances, for a time she used PR very much to her advantage.

Her chief press secretary Sir Bernard Ingham was an attack dog of the first order, as Machiavellian as a Mandelson, as charming as a Campbell. Tim Bell was instrumental in Thatcher's three successful general election campaigns, as well as giving her style, hair, voice and interview technique coaching. He helped to get her elected and keep her in power.

No-one could have foreseen how central PR would become to politics - or how fiscally important politics would become to PR. Superficially one of the most PR-unfriendly world leaders, The Iron Lady was the proto-spin buyer. And for that, I expect we should be grateful.

Arguably the Whitehall web is becoming overspun. Take the latest George Osborne debacle. No, not parking his gas-guzzling 4x4 in a disabled space while popping into MacDonald's. The other story: linking the tragic deaths of the Philpott children to welfare reforms. Nauseating political manoeuvring or smart means of getting Labour to paint itself like an anti-reformist of an unpopular benefits system? A gamble? A calculated risk? Or dumb luck?

Dumb is the only word that springs to mind when looking at coverage of Paris Brown, Twitter-ranting Kent teenager and Britain's first youth police and crime commissioner. It is remarkable that no-one saw fit to check her social media output prior to her appointment or at least before its announcement. Doh. Now Brown is being investigated by her employers, Kent Police, over possible social media offences. You couldn't make it up.

Here's hoping some useful lessons have come out of this week.

ruth.wyatt@haymarket.com

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