|low graphics version | feedback | help|
|You are in: UK Politics|
Friday, 14 July, 2000, 21:19 GMT 22:19 UK
Spinner's slow and televised death
By Austin Mitchell MP
I had been looking forward to Michael Cockrell's long awaited (and overlong) fly-on-the-wall documentary about Alastair Campbell, the Czar of Spin.
Here was to be an inside dopester's guide to Downing Street and a child's guide to spin. It ended up as 30 days in the televised death of Alastair Campbell.
I started out favourable to Alastair. He is a master of his art and the best press man Number 10 has ever had (even including Bernard Ingham).
I ended up even more favourable (which was doubtless the intention).
Here is a man uninhibited enough and in control both of the facts (far more so than mere ministers) and of the murky swirling waters - where the flow of news and guff from government meets the tributary of trivia, prejudice, inanity and know-all aggressiveness from the media - to create the half-truths we read, see and hear daily.
No one else emerges well
Alastair emerges as a brilliant master of his art and his facts, deftly brushing aside criticism, hostility and attacks.
No one else emerged at all well. Not the media journalists whose questioning was always softball, even sycophantic.
They claimed more knowledge than they had and played pundits rather than assiduously pursuing the truth.
No Perry Masons here, but a club of accomplices rather than a rat pack. All fawned on power, all were complicit in the spin they rushed to condemn: backbiting in their criticisms of Campbell yet rushing to lament his departure and want him back at the end.
Nor the prime minister who emerged more as actor than actor-manager. Not as weak as the "Blair" in the Bremner, Bird and Fortune sketch on Channel Four.
Yet speaking and repeating lines provided for him, continuously stage-managed ("You'd better move towards him"), or waiting in the wings for entry cues.
A man preoccupied with "clean pictures", how it all looked and sounded and constantly trying to get "on top of the news". In non-sexual fashion.
Not even Cockrell. His questioning is less than dynamic, deferential, almost pleading as he begs for a bit of a headline, a confession, anything to use as a trail for the programme.
Must-see for insiders only
Thereby hangs a problem. This film is a must-see for the political class and an eye-opener for backbenchers like me fed on a daily diet of pre-cooked pap which, it's now clear, Alastair has prepared earlier by throwing out the media.
Yet it will be insider gobbledegook for anyone else.
To use the old joke about Harold Wilson and Marcia Falkender, "Marcia can't see you for two weeks but the prime minister can see you straight away".
Cockrell started with an over-sympathetic film on Blair to open his way to the man at the top of the tree.
And being fly-on-the-wall, this isn't insight or analysis but a dependant relationship which tells it like it isn't. It can't question power or even tell the truth. Even if it is allowed to see it.
Everyday story of media folk
So it ends up as an everyday story of media folk: sound chaps and chapesses having fun and focused on trivia. Is Cherie going to have the baby by Caesarean section? Does Blair wear make-up?
So at the end of the day (and the film does seem that long) we still don't know if the media really understand what's going on.
Are they hand-fed creeps ("It's a real privilege to get to go to Chequers" quoth Sun editor David Yelland) playing an insider game, or do they balance what they're told against other channels of information?
Nor do we know how much of what really goes on gets through to the people, though Campbell sees the political press as the barrier to the government's "truth".
The one thing we do know is that Alastair is a brilliant press officer. A bruiser. But when the PM would rather do a Dale Winton routine and the media is nit-picking, a press manager needs to be abrasive.
Campbell emerges as an asset to the party and government, perhaps inevitably given the terms the film was made on. But it looks pretty true to me.
So only one question remains unanswered.
Why is a man who obviously loves his job, is clearly on top of it and gets kicks, excitement and fun and humour out of demonstrating his mastery, now going upstairs to a duller, more mundane world which demands civil service skills - not Campbell's kind of inspiration?
"I decided it," says Tony. Did he? Was Alastair kicked upstairs or did he go? Is it temporary or will he (as I'd certainly hope) be drafted back down again?
As on most issues, the Cockrell-Docrill doesn't tell us.
News from Number 10 was screened on Saturday 15 July on BBC 2 at 1940 BST.
Austin Mitchell is Labour MP for Great Grimsby.
13 Jul 00 | UK Politics
Campbell makes screen debut
13 Jul 00 | UK Politics
Viewing his master's voice
03 Jul 00 | UK Politics
Spin-struck from the start
11 Jun 00 | UK Politics
Downing Street attacks press
14 Jun 00 | Arabic
Has the spin doctor had his wings clipped?
14 Jun 00 | UK Politics
New press chief at Number 10
06 Aug 98 | UK Politics
MPs clear spin doctor
23 Jun 98 | UK Politics
Chief spin doctor defends role
11 Jan 99 | UK Politics
Civil war that hit New Labour project
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites
Top UK Politics stories now:
Links to more UK Politics stories are at the foot of the page.
Links to more UK Politics stories
|^^ Back to top
News Front Page | World | UK | UK Politics | Business | Sci/Tech | Health | Education | Entertainment | Talking Point | In Depth | AudioVideo
To BBC Sport>> | To BBC Weather>>
© MMIII | News Sources | Privacy