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Wednesday, 12 June, 2002, 11:56 GMT 12:56 UK
Spinning against the media
If in doubt - blame the media

It is hard to escape the feeling that Labour's latest assault on the media is a bit of spin aimed at burying the row over Tony Blair's role in the lying-in-state.

Or maybe it is the government plan to open people's e-mail records to civil servants - which has drawn criticism for being reminiscent of a police state - that is being buried.

So used are we to the spin from Downing Street and Millbank that the habit of looking for it in everything the government and the Labour party does is hard to break.

Former minister and spin doctor Peter Mandelson
Mandelson developed the art
It has contributed to the cynicism about politicians that people like spin-doctor-in-chief Alastair Campbell regularly deplore.

Now we are told on a regular basis that the spin is over and its time the media started giving the government a bit more credit.

Dark arts

But no sooner are such pledges offered than another bit of evidence emerges to give the lie to them.

The blame for the current state of affairs lies fairly and squarely at Labour's own front door.

And Labour party Chairman Charles Clarke knows this better than most.

Labour party Chairman Charles Clarke
Clarke: the original spin doctor
Mr Clarke won his bones as one of the original Neil Kinnock spin doctors.

The dark arts were not fully developed in those days in the 1980s and early 90s, that only came with the rise of Peter Mandelson and Mr Campbell.

But that is where it all started. And the seeds of the current situation were planted then.

Media honeymoon

Mr Clarke will also remember that the media attacks on Mr Kinnock were far more relentless and highly personalised than Mr Blair has ever faced.

Indeed, the prime minister enjoyed an unprecedented media honeymoon after the 1997 election.

So it is a bit rich when the media is attacked for, in effect, refusing to take at face value everything the government or the Labour party says and does.

And Mr Clarke's complaints come just as the government is embroiled in precisely the sort of affair that leads to cynicism.

The prime minister has dropped his complaint over allegations that his officials tried to win him a bigger role in the Queen Mother's lying-in-state.

The official line from Downing Street is that the press complaints commission has vindicated him and that is an end of the matter.

Grown up

But what Downing Street refuses point blank to answer is whether the prime minister abandoned the complaint because he knew Black Rod was about to contradict his version of events.

Like so many of these affairs, it is a simple case of who-knew-what-when.

But the prime minister's spokesman simply will not say.

That inevitably leads to the suspicion that the prime minister knew full well that Black Rod was about to blow his case out of the water and so executed a tactical retreat.

Mr Clarke is one of the grown up politicians on the Labour benches and knows precisely what he is up to.

He also knows he runs the risk of being accused of whingeing.

But - it must be assumed - the calculation is that such an attack may just persuade one or two in the media to abandon their cynicism and start giving the government the benefit of the doubt a little more.

That needs to be a two way street.

See also:

11 Jun 02 | UK Politics
12 Jun 02 | UK Politics
11 Jun 02 | UK Politics
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