The media management industry’s in-phrase is ’on message’. Either
you are ’on message’ today or you are causing trouble. Labour is widely
credited with winning the 1 May election because it was ’on message’ and
the Tories were ’off message’, or all over the show.
In fact, the Tories handed the election to Labour because they had grown
weary, divided and suicidally quarrelsome and self-indulgent after 18
years in office. Labour helped to make themselves even more electable by
pinching both the Tories’ philosophy and programme and acquiring the
discipline that comes with political hunger.
As one who sweated blood for 11 years trying to get three successive
Thatcher Governments to sing to the same hymn sheets - or ’on message’,
as the jargon now has it - I am the last person to sneer at the similar
and considerable efforts of Labour’s Minister without Portfolio, Peter
Mandelson and chief press secretary, Alastair Campbell.
But I think it’s important to distinguish between the message and the
mechanics of keeping the troops ’on message’. First, there has to be a
message. Second, the troops have to know what it is if they are to keep
on it. And then comes the process of orchestrating its delivery - ie
maximising the volume and keeping the messengers ’on message’. By far
the most important, if not necessarily the most difficult, is devising
and maintaining a coherent message.
I have been moved to analyse the PR process after joining Mr Mandelson
on Radio 4’s Any Questions? last Friday. Is he, I wonder, more
preoccupied with mechanics than substance? The reason I ask is that this
scourge of Tory ’fat cats’ had that very day created a new one in
international fund raiser Mark McCormack, who is due to earn pounds 9
million by raising pounds 150 million for the Millenium Experience in
This sits ill with Heritage Secretary Chris Smith trying to bully
Camelot directors into giving up, by comparison, tiny bonuses which they
had earned under contract. So does Labour’s piety over sleaze when,
after only two months in power, two of its MPs are already suspended
over allegations of bribery and failure to declare a Serbian business
interest; a third is under pressure for allegedly not revealing another
business connection; two ministers have apologised for failing to
declare an all-expenses paid trip abroad; and Prime Minister Tony Blair
is embroiled in a ’who lies?’ row over a Welsh MP who claims he has been
threatened with expulsion by Welsh Secretary Ron Davies if he opposes
This is not to mention the credibility of Labour’s new ’low tax’ image
after Gordon Brown’s first Budget this week. What is their message now
about fat cats, sleaze and taxes?