The Age of Spin - Tony Cunnane's Afterthoughts

Tony Cunnane's Afterthoughts
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The Age of Spin

Written in 2010

After the weekend’s offerings in newspapers and on the TV, I am confused. I don’t know who or what to believe. To misquote Sir Walter Scott: “Oh! what a tangled web they weave, when first they practise to deceive!”

I always watch the Andrew Marr TV programme on Sunday mornings. Watching Alastair Campbell, novelist and former Director of Communications and Strategy for Prime Minister Tony Blair, for once lost for words yesterday morning, bristling with suppressed anger and almost in tears, I was probably gaping in astonishment but, since I was alone in the house at the time, I can’t be sure. Surely the one-time Spin Doctor-in-Chief wasn’t having a moment of crisis and lack of self-belief? I played that part of the Marr interview over several times (jolly useful thing the Sky Plus Box with its pause and replay facilities) and still cannot make up my mind what to make of it. It was a beautiful performance either way.

For the first and second replays I felt sorry for Mr Campbell (I’ve never done that before); I thought that at last he had seen the light. Then I realised that he was really on the programme to plug his new novel which, quite coincidentally of course, is shortly to be published. Surely, he knew that Andrew Marr would not let him get away with that – however good the novel is (and some critics apparently grudgingly report that it is “actually quite good”). He must have known that he would be questioned about his evidence at the Iraq Inquiry? Was this an excellent piece of acting to gain public sympathy – or another example of spin?

It is said that Prime Minister Gordon Brown was reduced to tears when the subject of his daughter came up in another of yesterday’s TV interviews. I didn’t see that interview – and I won’t be watching any repeat showings. I simply cannot bear to watch the PM any more. When he appears on a TV news programme, I instantly switch to the other news channel – and if he’s on both I go channel hopping until he has gone away. I have nothing against the man, and it isn’t his fault he doesn’t look good on TV. I really would like to believe that he is genuinely a nice man who thinks long and hard about the difficult decisions any PM has to deal with. However, I simply cannot tell the difference between honest comment, electioneering, and downright cynical spin – and the political commentators are no help because most of them have axes to grind.

Hans Blix wasn’t sobbing, nor even close to it, when he appeared in this morning’s edition of Hard Talk on BBC TV. In fact, he kept a polite, diplomat’s disarming smile on his face throughout the 25 minute interview. Without calling anyone a liar (diplomats don’t do that do they?), he certainly gave the impression that much of what Tony Blair and Jack Straw said before the Iraq Inquiry recently was far from the truth. Mr Blix has not, he says, been invited to give evidence himself at the Iraq Inquiry. He should be! Or is the Iraq Inquiry another elaborate, expensive and cynical spin exercise?

That’s the trouble with politics today. One has to assume that everything, well almost everything, any politician or advisor says is spin – until proved otherwise. Spin about Global Warming; the need for another London Airport; the immigration figures; the economy; government targets; the NHS; university places and fees; und so weiter. How are we ordinary mortals to decide what is and isn’t spin? Perhaps someone can tell me. Is the next General Election to be treated as a mere game show, a sort of grotesque reality TV?

I sometimes had to resort to spin when, in my capacity as the RAF Red Arrows’ spokesman, I occasionally had to answer unwelcome media questions about something the Red Arrows had done (or not done) – but that of course was justified. I sometimes had to prevaricate, but I was never embarrassed.

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