OPINION: Humans are beyond control of spin machines

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Prime Minister's Questions remains the most exciting time of the

week for the bored lobby hacks fed a daily diet of drivel from the party

spin doctors.

Last week was no exception as Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith once again

attacked the Government's record on health.

This time he used a real example, and even though he hadn't bothered to

check the facts, relying instead on a newspaper's report, he hit a raw


New Labour, however, prides itself on 'being prepared' - nothing to do,

I may add, with Peter Mandelson once being a member of the Boy


The Prime Minister had a full report on the case ready and used it to

hit back at the Tories, thus creating the biggest row over health since

the 1992 election campaign, the last time someone used the medical case

of an NHS patient for political gain.

There is nothing the media like more than a human interest story, which

is why the Tories used the case of poor old Rose Addis in the first


The problem with humans, however, is that they can't all be controlled

by the party machines. I'll never forget how, in my keenness to promote

Gordon Brown as being business-friendly, spinning a yarn about how his

mum had been a business women in her youth. 'Business is in my blood,

says Brown' boomed one rag the next day and it was just the headline I

had hoped for. But the then Shadow Chancellor had not told his mum what

he was up to.

Smelling a rat, Andrew Pierce from The Times rang Brown's mum at home

and, though she was indeed involved in business years earlier, she was

too shy to admit it and modestly said that she hadn't been. 'Brown lies

about mum' was not what we had had in mind when we came up with the


In 1992 we had the case of 'Jennifer's ear', where Labour sought to use

the case of a young girl failing to get treatment for an ear


It turned out that her father was a Tory and he attacked Labour for

using the kid on TV for political gain. I will never forget being shown

a preview of that election broadcast and thinking that it was an

election winner.

At the time we still all thought that despite the row it was good for

Labour because it meant that health was dominating the news agenda. It

wasn't, of course. What was dominating the agenda was a good,

old-fashioned political row - and that is exactly what we got last


The good thing for the Tories, though, is that for the first time the

public knows who IDS is.

And the fact that he is not Hague Mark II will have done him no harm at

all. The Tories' problem, though, is that they have believed all the

nonsense about health being the issue that will win the next


It isn't. It is the economy, which is why Gordon Brown's return to

Westminster this week is so important.

As Brown prepares his Budget, he will be wondering if the Government has

got a strategy for the future of the health service at all. All we seem

to get from the so-called 'strategy unit' run from the new opulent

office at 12 Downing Street is a series of stunts.

A few NHS patients tipping up in Lille or a BUPA hospital for an

operation and a photo opportunity is not a strategy.

Nor is the Prime Minister falling in love with public sector workers

just because the leader of the opposition stands up for patients.

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