Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Impossible to sell

Whether you call it a presentation obsession, spin, political marketing or just old fashioned propaganda; the idea that anything that cannot be effectively sold is suppressed is rife within politics. It is not just an issue that faces a government but in an atmosphere where image, perception and impression are deemed to be more important than effective management, real politics and substance, all parties have to think of the effect of any announcement on the profit and loss account of public perception.

It is this issue that lies at the heart of the problem that arises today for Home Secretary Jacqui Smith. Illegal immigrants, those demons that present a clear and present danger to our society, according to section of both society and the media, have been employed in security roles as a matter of expediency it would appear. But it had to be done quietly, covertly and without the media and political opponents finding out.

When the decision was made no to announce this, memos reveal the thinking within government. Smith's private secretary reveals that Smith "did not think that the lines to take that we currently have are good enough for press office or ministers to use to explain the situation" and that the information "would not be presented by the media as a positive story". Well no it wouldn't, one can only imagine the headline the Daily Mail would have produced.

But is this a purely political party problem? Yes, they are the ones who focus on presentation and the treatment and thus effect of announcements. But the media must also claim culpability for the problem also. The media, as Blair famously said, want stories that have a dramatic impact. They are populist. Large sections like to scare their readers about dangers within society. Immigrants are an easy target, and despite the media showing a profound dislike for the actions and pronouncements of far-right groups like the British National Party they often appear to agree with aspects of their stance.

The bottom line is that it is impossible to have parties that do not spin when we have a media who do spin as it produces a 'circle of spin' or vicious circle as pictured above, each trying to out do and reverse the effects of the other's spin. The danger is the effect on public trust and engagement. I predict little change if the government were to change. A Conservative or Liberal Democrat led government would have to consider how the media may treat a story and find that they are unable to directly inform the public of the reasons for pursuing any particular political response. Hence they will spin. But the public will just continue to be cynical of politics, sceptical of the representativeness of this system, and view politics as a spectator sport of cat and mouse (possibly with the media as the dog that chases both), but they will not participate within a relationship that is about obfuscation and not illumination.

No comments: