People, not policies are the presentational problem

Every Friday for 11 years I used to meet the ’fishing fleet’, otherwise known as the Sunday Lobby, that splendid body of Sunday newspaper political correspondents who somewhat desperately cast their nets for news after their daily brethren have largely exhausted its stock in six days’ trawling.

Every Friday for 11 years I used to meet the ’fishing fleet’,

otherwise known as the Sunday Lobby, that splendid body of Sunday

newspaper political correspondents who somewhat desperately cast their

nets for news after their daily brethren have largely exhausted its

stock in six days’ trawling.



Consequently, they bring a certain creativity to their trade.



I do not believe all I read in newspapers, but I tend to be even more

sceptical about the Sundays. I feel I should mention this having just

spent my regulation two hours reading them. Frankly, I am professionally

appalled at the impression they must have formed in the public’s mind

about a Government which came to office pledged ’to renew faith in

politics’ - indeed, ’to clean up politics’.



The Sunday Times alleged that Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott

committed a political offence punishable by suspension for failing to

declare a donation of nearly pounds 27,000 from the Rowntree Trust. The

Observer claimed that Mr Prescott’s son will benefit from a property

deal approved by his department’s officials. The Sunday Telegraph

asserted that Agriculture Secretary Jack Cunningham chose a site near

his constituency for a new HQ, creating hundreds of jobs, which was more

expensive than other options.



The Observer reported that Northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam had

meddled in the appointment of an official and the Sunday Times claimed

that Foreign Secretary Robin Cook had required a Government car to do a

35-mile round trip in order to shuttle him between two Heathrow

terminals. The Sunday Telegraph’s front page claimed that the

’overbearing’ Lord Chancellor Irvine of Lairg, who likens himself to

Cardinal Wolsey and has expensive tastes in wallpaper, ’faces revolt by

his staff’. And the Independent on Sunday took a page to inquire into

’what are we going to do about Peter?’ (Mandelson) which served only to

advertise the personal animosities between ministers.



All this ignores plenty of other Government tittle tattle, the now

routine savaging of Harriet Harman, Social Security Secretary, and the

Scottish Labour Party’s revolt over the attempt to cut lone parent

benefit. In my days at No 10, such a concentrated catalogue of scandal,

whether real or imagined, would have been deeply worrying because of the

perception it would create. It is all the more damaging for a Government

which rode to office on the back of Tory ’sleaze’.



After only ten months, it is clear that Labour’s problem is less one of

policy than people. It is amazing that it should have come to this so

soon in a Government famed in opposition for its presentational

wizardry.



It shows that issues PR is a damned sight easier than people PR.



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