Blair’s spin doctors have made life miserable for GICS members

Our Government is now into the second half of its first Parliament.

Our Government is now into the second half of its first

Parliament.



It is therefore time to take stock of its official press officers -

members of the Government Information and Communication Service (GICS),

as it is now known - as distinct from the party-appointed spin doctors

who also ply their trade at the taxpayers’ expense. How are GICS members

feeling after more than two years under the most media-obsessed

Government we have ever known?



I put myself into their shoes when, as a former head of the GICS, I was

invited to give evidence about political advisers to the Neill

Committee. How, I asked myself, would I feel if I had been through what

they have experienced since May 1997? There they were, dying like all

good civil servants to demonstrate they could work with a Labour

Government after 18 years of Tory rule, when their territory was

suddenly invaded by an immodest and uncommonly large bunch of party

apparatchiks called special advisers who laughably claimed their media

manipulation had produced a Labour landslide.



They obviously believed the GICS was the pits - as their new operational

head, Alastair Campbell, soon made explicit with a Nelsonian flourish

when he signalled: ’Labour expects every man this day to raise his

game.’ The GICS was apparently not up to the brave new 24-hour world of

news creation. Ministers got the message and within a year, 25 of those

occupying the top 44 GICS posts had moved on for one reason or another.

In 12 months, more than half the Government’s top communications echelon

had been purged, often in a manner of which Stalin would have approved.

One was actually described to the press as ’dead meat’ before the axe

fell.



The Government then came up with another wheeze to humiliate its press

officers: it instituted a review, under a Permanent Secretary to give it

respectability, to give the GICS its marching orders and re-write the

rules. Leaking was institutionalised and administrators were told to

discard their ’disdain’ for press officers. The latter move might have

been more helpful if wet-behind-the-ears administrators had not been

brought in to head information divisions where tame journalists were not

imported for the job.



Meanwhile, the civil service head of the GICS reported the development

of a ’blame culture - a concentration on mistakes, regardless of who

actually made them, and little else’. Yet all the Government’s

presentational botches - for example, the Prime Minister’s encounters

with Bernie Ecclestone and Romano Prodi, the Whelan-induced euro fiasco,

Peter Mandelson’s and Ron Davies’ resignations and Robin Cook’s

continuation in office, to name but a few - could only be laid at the

door of the GICS’ critics. So how does the GICS feel? Abused - like the

system.



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