Arguing that PR had undermined trust in politics were Kevin Maguire, associate editor at the Daily Mirror, and Shelia Gunn, a former political journalist who also served as a spokesperson for John Major.
Maguire said journalism was partially to blame for the declining levels of public trust in politicians in recent yeara: ‘I accept that my trade has played a part.’
But he insisted that political spin was the main reason. He said: ‘I’ve seen it, I’ve been a witness to it for 25 years, it’s got worse. It was happening in the Thatcher era, it got worse under Labour and it’s happening now.'
Highlighting Prime Minister David Cameron’s background as head of corporate comms for Carlton TV, he asserted: ‘The spin doctors are taking over. We don’t have a prime minister. We have a prime spinner.’
Backing him up, Gunn argued the politicians and their PR advisers were both to blame. She said: ‘The way that spin and PR has been used and condoned by the politicians has got us where we are today.’
On the opposing side of the argument were Lance Price, former deputy comms director in Downing Street, and Francis Ingham, chief executive of the PRCA.
Price claimed: ‘Tabloid journalism has done more to undermine politics than any spin doctor…. The worst excesses of spin wouldn’t be possible if there weren’t journalists who were willing to play along.’
Ingham also blamed the media for sensational reporting of politics, noting that ‘every change of policy, however small, is an embarrassing u-turn’. But he argued that that it was primarily politicians such as Jeffrey Archer, Derek Conway and Eric Ilsey, rather than spin doctors, who were to blame for the low levels of trust in politics today.
A show of hands at the end of the event, earlier this week, indicated that a majority of audience sided with Price and Ingham, with 61 voting for the motion and 78 against.
The debate was chaired by Trevor Morris, visiting professor of public relations at the University of Westminster and co-author of PR - A Persuasive Industry?