Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Peter Kay for Prime Minister?

Given that we are again seeing the death of spin, unlikely given that every government, organisation and individual spins as part of their daily life, there is much speculation about how different Brown will be in his communication. I found an interesting article buried away on the BBC News site by Brian Wheeler that discusses, using a range of experts, what the Brown approach should be.

Tim Bell, former advisor to Thatcher, makes the point that ending spin is impossible; but also highlights that "He is surrounded by public relations people and people advising him on what his image should be. If that is what his spin is, he is telling a lie." PR is ingrained in government, but not all PR is bad. PR can be used to facilitate a dialogue, at least theoretically, the problem is that spin has become synonymous with PR and a negative entrant into political discourse. Hence, as PR consultant Mark Borkowski, "Blair completely blew it. The great secret of political PR is to make sure no one sees the strings being pulled. If the media are talking about spin, it means you have failed,"

Neil Hourston, of TBWA, Labour's advertising agency at the 2005 general election argues Brown should be 'Mr No Nonsense'. Learning lessons from the success of the John Smith's Bitter advertising campaign, Brown should emulate Jack Dee or Peter Kay, Hourston argues. John Smiths was "the 'no-nonsense' ale against the nonsense of lager... David Cameron is like Stella Artois" When pitting John Smiths against brands like Stella "we had to have charm and wit. We were actually being a lot funnier than the opposition... If we made John Smith's too rational and literally no-nonsense, they would not understand the appeal of those values. They would probably find it a bit boring." So Brown must be straight talking, witty, convey a no-nonsense attitude, be the peoples brand perhaps. The big question, is it too late to build a new persona. The whole piece is predicated on the fact that people want to know more about Brown, but do they? Is there evidence? Or have people already got a perception of Brown and are happy or unhappy with that? There are a range of assumptions that may be true for commercial brands, such as you can change the image using a funny ad, but are there really obvious parallels with politics? The ads though depict straight-talking, the big question is; whether straight-talking is possible in a competitive media environment and if politicians should really always tell it like it is? Couldn't resist offering this ad to help us consider the parallels!


Anonymous said...

Hello — I’d be interested to know how spin is defined in your academic field. Doubtless, this is discussed elsewhere on your blog, and so apologies for not having searched yet. But I'm wondering, along with Bruno Latour, to what extent what 'we' castigate as spin today is actually unavoidable in politics and what the implications of this are. Latour writes:

"Political expression is always disappointing; that is where we must start. In terms of the transfer of exact undistorted information on the social or natural world, we could say that it always seems to be totally inadequate : truisms, clich├ęs, handshakes, half-truths, half-lies, windy words, repetitions mostly, ad nauseam. That is the ordinary, banal, daily, limp, tautological character of this form of discourse that shocks the brilliant, the upright, the fast, the organized, the lively, the informed, the great, the decided. When one says that someone or something is "political", one signals above all this fundamental disappointment, as if it were no longer possible to move forwards in a straight line, reasonably, quickly, efficiently, but necessary to "take into account", "a whole lot of" "extra-rational factors" of which one fails to clearly understand all the ins and outs but which form an obscure, soft, heavy, round mass that sticks to those with the best intentions and, judging by what they say, seems to slow them down. The expression "that's political" means first and foremost "it doesn't move straight", "it doesn't move fast"; it always implies that "if only we didn't have this load, we'd achieve our goal more directly".


Why do we regret that politicians "don't tell the truth"? Why do we demand that they be "more transparent"? Why do we want "less distance between representatives and those whom they represent"? Even more absurd, why do we wish that "politicians wouldn't change their minds all the time", "wouldn't turn their coats for the slightest reason"? These demands, repeated throughout the press like a complaint, a rumbling, a shout or, rather, like a mort, are good sense in appearance only, for they all amount to judging the conditions of felicity of one regime of talk in relation to those of another. The denigration of political talk would never be possible without this ignorance of its key, of its own peculiar tone, of its spin as English-language newspapers so accurately (albeit mockingly) put it".

- Giles

Darren G. Lilleker said...

Hello Giles. An excellent contribution that I agree with whole-heartedly in many ways. Spin has become one of the major themes in political discourse, and has been attached almost solely to the Blair government. I keep considerign producing a history of spin, the problem is where to start; Ancient Rome, Greece or even in modern times Churchill? The problem is that we all spin, I did post something on that right at the beginning of this blog.

There are two reasons why the media do focus on spin. Firstly, and I agree wrongly, the public think politicians should be pure of heart, thought, word and deed even if they are human and humans are none of those. The standards which they set for politicians are unreachable but they are still set and the media judge politicians against them. Secondly, and more seriously, is the growth in the overt use of spin, fuelling as it does a more hostile form of journalistic enquiry, and so driving debate down what is a blind alley. We now find ourselves in a position where we understand why spin is necessary, but we also need to be sensible about what is right level of spin and what is the purpose. Every war Britian has entered has been spun, to someone I imagine, there is somewhere a lovely quote from Oliver Cromwell convincing parliament of the need to take arms against the King - it was laden with spin. But will the public and media accept it any longer? If not, how should politicians react? They are big questions, needing big answers that are none too apparent.

Thanks again for your contribution and please offer any ideas for solution.