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Wednesday, 26 June, 2002, 14:14 GMT 15:14 UK
Hannan's Call to Order
Veteran political broadcaster Patrick Hannan
BBC Wales' political commentator Patrick Hannan takes a look at MP Peter Hain's attempts to tell the nation that the government's days of spin are over.

Oh dear! It's so difficult to know what to believe these days.

Having apparently seen the error of its ways, like a boozer renouncing drink at a meeting of the Band of Hope, the government is apparently giving up spin.

From now on there'll be no attempt to manipulate the news. Frankness and honesty will be the watchwords of ministers and spin doctors (sorry, spokesmen) alike.

The problem is how do we know whether this is actually true? Might it not be just another piece of spin masquerading as an act of repentance and all the more reprehensible because it is just another attempt to bamboozle an already dizzy public?

These questions arise out of an interview given by Peter Hain, the MP for Neath and minister for Europe.

Neath MP Peter Hain
Peter Hain wants to get rid of the 'old days'

In it he appeared to be one of those people who believed that the government must put its bad old ways behind it because they had led to a "lack of trust" among the voters.

One consequence would be damage to the prospects of a "Yes" vote in a referendum on joining the Euro.

Having identified the problem, something he maintained was affecting the government's otherwise unblemished reputation for all-round brilliance, he explained that a solution was in hand.

"We will sort it out. We will do that by continuing to pursue the right policies and being much more straightforward in our communications."

Now the fact that Mr Hain is a serious, talented and ambitious politician who has a reputation for plain-speaking does not prevent people from thinking that this statement is simply another piece of propaganda rather than an indication of any serious intention to reform.

'Cynical public'

That's not due to any lack of honesty on Mr Hain's part but to the widespread belief that every word uttered by every politician conceals an ulterior motive.

So a cynical public believes that someone who says: "From now on we shall tell the truth," really means, "From now on we shall be more careful."

The problem is aggravated by the fact that so suspicious are we that there are any number of possible interpretations available for even the simplest utterance.

In February, for example, when Mr Hain said that a referendum on the Euro could be held as early as next year, it was something immediately put under the political microscope.

Euro bank notes
Will there be a Euro referendum next yaer?

This meant, experts argued, that the government intended to steamroller Britain into the currency, regardless of the five economic tests; or that Mr Hain was being used by Downing Street to float an idea or, alternatively, that it was his own initiative designed to ingratiate him with the prime minister. Pick any one from three.

The fact that he might have been simply making a statement of the totally obvious didn't occur to anyone.

They know that ministers don't go round saying things simply to fill in a few idle moments. There is always a hidden agenda, although not a very well hidden one by the look of it.

As it happens Mr Hain is one of those people who seems to have a certain amount of licence to put controversial ideas into the public domain in a way that allows them to be officially disowned if they turn out to be unpopular.

So it could be that when he implied that the government intended to clean up his act on spin he might actually have meant exactly what he said.

Now that would be really devious.

Patrick Hannan's weekly political programme, Called to Order, is live on Radio Wales, 93-104FM, 882 and 657AM, and DSat channel 867.

You can also listen to BBC Radio Wales live online at http://www.bbc.co.uk/wales/live/rwv5.ram.

e-mail: order@bbc.co.uk


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09 May 02 | UK Politics
24 Oct 01 | UK Politics
24 Jun 02 | UK Politics
17 Jun 02 | UK Politics
12 Jun 02 | UK Politics
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