OPINION: Tabloid hacks don’t make best spin doctors

I was speaking to News of the World editor Colin Myer the day after Andy Coulson was appointed and he seemed surprised that his predecessor had been ­offered the job as top Tory spin doctor. He wasn’t the only one; I was completely baffled.

Now, I have absolutely nothing bad to say about Andy Coulson – we Spurs fans tend to stick together – but I can’t say anything positive about his ­appointment. Firstly, let’s get all this nonsense comparing Coulson with Campbell out of the way. For a start, when Alastair was appointed as Tony Blair’s spin doctor he was a largely unknown political hack writing a little read and badly written column for Today, just before the paper closed down.

He may have since become a celebrity, but the days of celebrity spin doctors are over – making Cameron’s choice of the ex-editor of the News of the World a very strange one indeed. Even stranger when you consider that Coulson’s friends don’t consider him to be a Tory or even that interested in politics. Campbell, on the other hand, was a fervent ­Labour supporter who lived and breathed politics. As he rightly says himself, what’s important about ­being a political spin doctor is not understanding the media, which Coulson obviously does, but understanding politics, which Coulson has yet to prove.

It’s surprising that David Cameron did not consider the success, or lack of it, of the last high-profile tabloid hack to take on the job as the leader’s spinner in chief. Sunday Express editor Amanda Platell, who like Andy Coulson left her job under a cloud, clearly understood the media, but her handling of William Hague ended in humiliating defeat. Before her, another former Express journalist, Charles Lewington, failed spectacularly with John Major.

I find the most surprising thing about this appointment is that the Tories did not get someone from TV to take the job. There is little doubt that what appears on our small screen is ten times more important than what appears in print. Why didn’t they break the bank to get former Young Conservative Nick Robin­son from the BBC? It was also rumoured in Westminster that BBC political hack Guto Harri was in talks with top Tories. Perhaps a wider question is why politicians still consider that high-profile journalists make better spin doctors when evidence shows they don’t.

Most interesting, though, was Gordon Brown’s decision to ­announce his new Downing Street spokesperson the day Coulson was appointed. His choice of Mike ­Ellam, a career civil servant, cleverly reinforces his positioning away from Blair and the days of spin.
charlie.whelan@haymarket.com

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