Labour’s media strategy is just highlighting in-house wrangles

Leaving aside mounting evidence of simultaneous inflation and stagnation in the economy, the Government has two overriding problems as it nears the end of its first Parliamentary year. Not surprisingly, they are presentation and personalities since these - and not distinctive policies - are what New Labour is about. Let’s get personalities out of the way first.

Leaving aside mounting evidence of simultaneous inflation and

stagnation in the economy, the Government has two overriding problems as

it nears the end of its first Parliamentary year. Not surprisingly, they

are presentation and personalities since these - and not distinctive

policies - are what New Labour is about. Let’s get personalities out of

the way first.



Recently I lunched with a top civil servant, who told me: ’You and I

have known too often how prime ministers and their chancellors have

started out as friends and allies and ended up at daggers drawn.

Thatcher and Howe. Thatcher and Lawson. Major and Lamont. But this is

the first time we have seen them start distrustful and resentful of each

other as Blair and Brown did. God only knows how it will end.’



Far too much PR time in all governments is spent coping with ministerial

personality clashes and quirks. But in this one the spin doctors are

putting in overtime actually exploiting those differences, in

anticipation of the reshuffle, expected this month. They are being

remorselessly played out in speculation over how Mr Blair will curb the

ambitions of Gordon Brown in Cabinet changes, notably featuring Peter

Mandelson and Chief Whip Nick Brown. The entire recasting of the

Government will be judged, it seems, by whether the Prime Minister can

show indisputably who is boss.



This is as politically unhealthy as reports, plastered all over the

Observer last Sunday, of Labour-loving lobbyists allegedly trading

ministerial access and inside information for cash. Only 14 months ago,

this would have been called sleaze. The Government is looking rather

tawdry and Mr Blair should this day box the ears of both his stupid

apparatchiks and the judgmentally-challenged lobbyists among his hangers

on. He should have learned at least something from his abysmal handling

of pounds 1 million Labour benefactor Bernie Ecclestone’s Formula 1

motor racing tobacco sponsorship.



He should also tell his press secretary, Alastair Campbell to calm

down.



I don’t blame Mr Campbell for trying to inject discipline into the

Government’s broadcast presentation. Governments are entitled to decide

whether they have something to say and whether the format of the

programme, including the interviewer and other guests, suit its purpose.

Too many broadcasters seek only heat, not light.



But it is counter-productive to create an issue over whether you are

’dumbing down’ ministerial appearances by avoiding hard-ball

interviewers in favour of soft sofa situations. What are ministers

afraid of? Their own policies? And it is idiotic then to spend a week

provoking a public row by writing to the Times and drawing the withering

fire of the likes of Jeremy Paxman, Nick Clarke and John Humphrys. The

silly season has arrived early. Stupidity has set in.



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