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Wednesday, 12 June, 2002, 11:29 GMT 12:29 UK
Time to tighten up on spin doctors?
The Conservatives say attempts by a Labour adviser to find out the political sympathies of survivors of the Paddington rail crash were a disgrace.
Leaked emails show that Dan Corry tried to find out whether the people leading the Paddington Survivors' Group of rail crash victims were Tory supporters.
Mr Corry, as well as the current and former Transport Secretaries have all apologised for the emails.
But the Conservatives say that is not enough. They accuse the government of trying to smear its critics and of fostering a culture of spin that is now out of control.
Are they right? Is Labour too obsessed with news management? Is it time to tighten up on spin doctors?
This debate was suggested by Colin, UK: "Is it not time that these politically appointed "special advisers" were held to public account for their "advice"?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
All parties will use "Special Advisers" and spin the news. Simply trying to tighten their leash will result in them being renamed in a naive attempt to deflect media attention from them. "Government to get rid of all Special Advisers" reads a possible tabloid headline ("now to be called policy consultants" is the bit that gets missed). Hard as it may be to digest, Jo Moore and Dan Corry were simply carrying out the job that they had been employed to do. What's quite amusing this morning is Clare Short's call for the reduction in spin from her own Government. Anything for a clap from the public, eh Ms Short?
Steve Perry, UK
During the Cold War the free world sneered at Russia's blatant attempt to distort everyday events in the media to suit their political needs.
Now, it seems, it is fashionable and here with us. Let's hope the regime that has lately adopted this technique goes the same way as their role model - oblivion!
The Government took the gutless approach to this predicament and is rightfully taking heat for it. Had the Government actually asked the most pressing question of these people, that being: "what exactly do you know about the management of a nationwide rail network?" Then they could have silenced their critics there and then. Yes, it is the right of the citizenry to criticise the Government, but this right does not mean the Government can't call them idiots.
Being in a rail crash does not make you an expert on rail management, just as having your car stolen doesn't grant you special insight into intelligent policing. The Government, far from trying to deal with the problem in the darker corridors of Whitehall, should grab the bull by the horns and argue with their critics head-on. The rail network is being fixed, but the reason it is in such a state is because the public allowed it to go into disrepair while enjoying the rewards of such disinvestment through tax cuts under the Tories. Where do we point the blame? Squarely at the door of the voter, unfair as it may be, I would be interested to know how many of the current detractors voted Tory in the last 20 years.
When is this Government going to stop spinning the story that it is a Labour Government. Make no mistake, many of the less well-off are worse off. Stealth taxes, milking the national lottery, etc, anything except putting up the higher rates of Income Tax. No wonder so many Fat Cat millionaires are contributing to new Labour.
New Labour should drop using spin to try and hoodwink the media and the people of this country on what is going on. For all their good work on the economy, can't they see the irreparable damage they are inflicting on their party. The British people are very forgiving over people who stand up and say they made an honest mistake, but they will not forgive being lied in this way.
To be honest, if I was in Tony Blair's shoes I would probably manage the media in exactly the same way. There have been too many broken promises, too many blunders, and as much deception as the previous Conservative government. To not aggressively manage the media would be to face almost certain election defeat. Tony's masterstroke is in getting taxpayers to pay for all this propaganda in the first place!
I would take issue with Adrian, UK. Yes to an extent "spin" has always been with us. This government however, raises it to a weapon of mass destruction. Ordinary members of the public who criticise Blair are attacked. Meanwhile, Parliament is ignored, we the people are treated as gullible fools, and taxpayers foot the bill!
The next election will be a good day to bury bad liars!
Currently there seems to be some idea that so called "spin" is something new and created by New Labour. No way it is, it's been in constant use to my certain knowledge for the last 200 years. In the 19th century they were paying papers a retainer to publish government-friendly material. Recently they've used "friendly" editors to get the message across, and that applies to BOTH parties.
What disgusts me most about this affair is that these "abject" apologies only come about because these people are found out. They are apologising for being found out not for doing this dirty trick. I despair of the politics in this country with little Englanders on one side and the control freak nannies on the other.
Dan Corry is just doing his job, as was Jo Moore. Being in the crash has given these people media attention. If they are going to use this to criticise the Government I think it only right that any political links they have be made public.
As usual, the hypocrisy of the Tories can be smelled for miles around. Margaret Thatcher never stopped banging on about how it wasn't the policy but merely the "presentation" which was wrong. Tories invented spin and Bernard Ingham was the sorcerer to Alistair Campbell's apprentice.
It isn't just Labour that employ these notorious special advisers. Our political system is being taken over by individuals who go straight from university to a life as a political hanger-on. These people see advising our elected officials as a way of avoiding getting a real job in the private sector. The sad thing is, the politicians listen to them - and pay them.
If the Government invested time and effort on actually implementing fixes for the country's current transport crisis rather than continually planning for change then there would be little room for criticism from the left or the right.
Labour MP Gerald Kaufmann summed it up well on Radio 4 Any Questions the other evening. He said that anyone who has the ability to be a Minister does need special advisors. His advice was to sack all such advisors and I agree. Kaufmann is full of common sense and that is probably why he is not in the Government. This incident illustrates how all governments everywhere are up to no good.
We have a government that is less concerned about the good of the country and more worried bout public face. It's about how long they can keep themselves in a well paying job. Nothing more
How can we do anything about political spin? There is no authority to whom politicians have to report outside of general elections, and no sensible alternatives offered on those occasions. It's getting really depressing having to put up with being patronised by politicians of all parties and having no effective right of reply.
The saddest thing is that nobody knows what to believe any more, so everything we are told is discounted, be it true or false.
Perhaps this is just my cynicism, but did anyone notice that the latest figures showing that the Government are still failing on their pledge that no one should be waiting more than 15 months for a hospital bed were announced this afternoon? If not, this might be because they were released while England were playing Argentina in the World Cup. It would appear that spin is still in control and that the Government - and possibly the media - never learn.
It's about time we stopped using the euphemism "spin" and called it what it is - lies. So called "spin doctors" are just propagandists. And it is offensive that these people are funded from general taxation. Why should the taxpayer fund party appointees whose sole purpose seems to be to protect Tony and his cronies from legitimate criticism by members of the public? The whole think stinks.
The root cause of this avalanche of so-called "spin" is a paranoid Prime Minister who is trying to be all things to all people in a clumsy attempt to resurrect his fast decaying popularity. If the Government were competent to do the job of running the country, the secret e-mails, distasteful spin and this never-ending litany of hollow apologies would be unnecessary.
Paul, Essex, UK
I cannot believe that any government should consider that they have the right to investigate any private citizen who is not a security risk. What do their political affiliations matter in the circumstances? I am horrified by this and the more I see of this Government the more disappointed I am. They promised so much and have achieved so little except not messing up the economy they inherited. They are far more sleazy than the Conservatives ever were, at least in their case it was a few bad individuals not from the top down. It seems to me that George Orwell got everything right except the date.
This says a lot about the cynical people at the heart of New Labour. It's time for a full and independent inquiry into the operations of this Government. I'm sure this must only be the tip of the iceberg. For the sake of us poor public, something needs to be done to restore any confidence in our Government.
So what were the Paddington survivors doing getting involved in the row about what Stephen Byers did or did not say? He was the person who did what was needed to improve rail safety i.e. killed off Railtrack.
I think it was very wise to ask questions about the group's motives when after Byers has done the one "big thing" to improve matters, they start attacking him.
It would appear that Tony Blair's government is descending further into scandal by its obsession with "presentation" instead of simple truth. I am appalled that Dr Clark should say that it is natural for New Labour to want to know who is attacking them! Are the victims of Paddington now the enemy of New Labour? The spin has no truth or logic!
The spin is bad enough on its own, but the worst aspect of the whole business is what it says about Labours opinion of the electorate! It would seem that they think we are gullible fools who will simply believe everything Uncle Tony tells us. Sadly, it would seem that more often than not, they are right. We only have ourselves to blame!
While nobody needs to take any lessons from the Conservatives about ethical government, this episode leaves one wondering whether Labour is ever going to take rail safety seriously enough to do anything about it. The Paddington crash was a devastating accident. The investigation into the survivors' political views simply adds insult to injury.
This isn't about spin doctors. This is about our government being more concerned with image and power than with the wellbeing of Britain and the electorate. Their whole attitude of "change the news - to hell with the truth" is loathsome.
I suspect that all parties are too obsessed with news management, and a tightening up of all forms of spin is long overdue. It is quite disgraceful that the political sympathies of rail crash survivors should be considered for one moment.
In reply to David Etchells, surely there's something disturbing about a government assuming that anyone who would criticize the government must have a hidden agenda or an axe to grind. Is this paranoia perhaps the reason why the Government is more concerned with spin than in acting on legitimate criticisms?
Having read the e-mails in question on the BBC website I fail to see how they can be construed as intended to smear members of the Paddington Survivors Group. The seem to me to be a legitimate attempt to discover whether group members who criticise the government have some kind of hidden agenda or party political axe to grind.
John B, UK
This whole incident seems to suggest that it would be improper for the rail crash survivors to be working from an overtly political platform. But the whole issue of public transport and privatisation is essentially political. It seems to me that sleaze is not the point here, rather the Labour party process of recasting the legitimate boundaries of public engagement outside of any directly political engagement.
This all seems very Orwellian. A government which seems to spy on its critics in order to discredit them? Perhaps they are learning too much from the regimes they are so fond of selling weapons to... It is oddly ironic that the Tory party, for all their faults, never went to such lengths.
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