Archive for the ‘Gordon Brown’ tag

Top 10 media lessons from Labour conference

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1. Avoid loose talk…
… in the lift. A lesson David Miliband will certainly remember next year after he – allegedly – remarked to a colleague after his speech that he wanted to avoid a ‘Heseltine moment’. Unbeknownst to Miliband an (unnamed) BBC journalist was also in the lift

2. Learn from the US – use your family
Gordon Brown wouldn’t go as far as Sarah Palin (or David Cameron) – he wouldn’t use his children as ‘props’ at the conference, but by letting his wife introduce him he seems to have convinced much of the media that he is, indeed, human (‘Gordon’s Wife-Line’)

3. Avoid loose talk…
… in the bar. Or you might let slip, as one junior No.10 official apparently did (from The Guardian), that a Cabinet minister is resigning – distracting from coverage of your leaders’ pivotal conference speech

4. Give press conferences in the bar at 3.15am
As Damien McBride and Julie Crowley did on Tuesday night – to confirm reports that Ruth Kelly was indeed going to resign. As opposed to making announcements in the official press briefing area which was, according to the FT, ‘deserted’

5. Avoid loose talk
… in the corridor. After Cherie Blair’s alleged ‘Well, that’s a lie’ comment at the 2006 conference. She was reported to have made the comment after hearing Gordon Brown claim in his speech that it had been a privilege to work with Tony Blair. It subsequently became the defining media moment of the Labour conference

6. Don’t manhandle your supporters from the conference hall
This is another lesson Labour learnt back in 2006 but watching the coverage again on YouTube (BBC clip here) reminded me how astonishing it was. But rather than releasing control there are reports that the Party instead used less overt methods of suppressing dissent (see lesson number 7)

7. Avoid loose talk…
… in unofficial Labour-supporting media. LabourHome made the mistake of releasing the findings of a ‘grassroots survey’ on the eve of the conference. The findings were not particularly shocking, but were presented as such by The Independent (see previous blog). LabourHome’s editor reportedly attracted the wrath of other party supporters. Wrath that may then have been extended to other Labour supporters (see Harry’s Place report on Martin Bright)

8. Walk more
A lesson Cameron learnt from The West Wing, Clegg adopted in Bournemouth, but Brown ignored. Walking gives the impression of dynamism, that you can’t just hang around making a speech, you have to get things done (though one must be careful not to walk too fast)

9. Say the same thing
And it might, eventually, get through. Matthew Engel picked up on this one in the FT. “So it’s official” Engel wrote, “it doesn’t matter what subject it is, you just say the same things. The template is: “In the past 11 years, conference, your Labour government has abolished ——-, put £xxxm into ———- for the ——- and provided free —— for the over-60s/over-80s/under-fives. The Tories opposed all these changes and have said they will revert to ——-. We want to make ——- stronger. That’s why we need unity and a fourth term for Labour.”

10. Avoid loose talk…
… in your hotel bedroom? One must assume, after the lead story this year (and in 2006) came from an overheard remark, that journalists will go to ever greater lengths to catch an unguarded, off-the-cuff comment. Politicians beware.

Written by Martin Moore

September 25th, 2008 at 9:56 am

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Independent's suspect use of LabourHome Poll

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Grassroots turn against Brown” The Independent splashes on its front page. According to an exclusive poll by the paper, Andrew Grice writes, “The Labour Party’s grassroots have turned decisively against Gordon Brown and a majority want him to stand down”.

The article goes on to cite the poll’s finding that “54 percent would prefer someone else to lead the party into the next general election”, and that David Miliband is Brown’s favoured successor.

Given that the Labour conference is about to start this poll might appear, at first glance, to be significant – possibly even significant enough to strengthen the cause of a leadership challenge.

But wait, take a closer look both at the poll itself and at the way it is reported in the paper and its significance begins to crumble.

The Independent commissioned the poll from, a “A pro-Labour, group-blogging effort, that gives the like-minded the chance to have their say” according to the site. LabourHome used its mailing list to invite its community of users to take part in a ‘Labour Grassroots Survey’. 788 did (or the 788 ‘Labour members’ that were used in the eventual results – unclear how these were distinguished).

There are at least three reasons why this poll cannot be considered a representative sample of Labour grassroots. First, it’s too small. Second, it’s self-selecting and therefore – without considerable distillation – inevitably unrepresentative. Third, it overwhelmingly favours new media savvy younger, active Labour supporters.

Alex Hilton, the editor of LabourHome and previously an exec researcher at NOP (according to his comments on the site), recognises the limitations of the survey. He would much prefer, he says, that the Labour Party did its own grassroots research with its 100,000 email database. But, he writes, “most of you have seen the drivel we get as emails from the party”.

If only The Independent had similarly recognised – and highlighted – the limitations (by putting it a few pages back in the paper for a start), as opposed to making it appear as though this represents a clear message from the Labour rank and file.

Indeed even if it was a representative poll of Labour grassroots the Independent’s coverage is still misleading. Based on the figures it could as easily have written ”Grassroots say stick with Brown for next election’, given that 55% of those who responded to the poll do not believe that changing their leader will improve their chances. On top of which, as Hilton points out, 46% supported Brown which, in a leadership contest, would almost certainly give him enough to win.

Written by Martin Moore

September 19th, 2008 at 10:31 am

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What next for political spin?

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Vincent Cable, whose rhetorical skills won him admirers during his short stint as caretaker Lib-Dem leader, writes today that the current government’s ‘PR skills rival those of Marie Antoinette during the Paris food riots’.

Oh how the worm turns. It really wasn’t long ago that politicians and the media were welcoming the end of Blairite spin with open arms. Finally, they said, we can look forward to politics without endless media manipulation, without constantly trying to distinguish between the surface and the substance, without Alastair Campbell and his proteges.

And now? ‘Bring back spin!’ They cry. ‘Bring back manipulation!’ Simon Jenkins was probably the most direct in the Guardian a couple of weeks back when he wrote that Brown ‘would be better advised to cheer up, stick to his guns and attempt some charisma implant’.

But the implications of Brown’s administration failing to present itself well go beyond the Prime Minister cheering up and showing a bit more charisma.

Many politicians will conclude that Blair was right. That one cannot be a modern day politician without being versed in the black arts of spin. That “not to have a proper press operation nowadays is like asking a batsman to face bodyline bowling without pads or headgear” (from Blair’s “feral beast” speech). That perception is indeed as important as reality.

David Cameron arguably made this conclusion some time ago – perhaps even before he appointed the apolitical Andy Coulson (recently fired from the editorship of the News of the World), to be his director of communications.

Many journalists will become yet more disillusioned with politics. Still furious with the machinations of Blair they will be unable to forgive the failure of no-spin Brown to resuscitate their belief in democratic politics.

Of course there is another way (though let’s not call it the third way). Politicians and the media could both decide to be more adult. Both could conclude – rightly – that democratic politics is inherently bound together with mass communication (note this does not necessarily mean ‘spin’). Politicians have a need – and an obligation – to tell people what they’re doing. The media need democratic politics to give them both the parameters and the space to report freely and critically. The two could do worse than recognising their mutual needs and seeing how they can best be fulfilled in interests of society.

Written by Martin Moore

June 2nd, 2008 at 7:10 pm

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Daily Mail turns green?

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I looked at the headline, then up at the name of the paper. Then at the headline again. Yes, it was The Daily Mail. Yes, they had devoted their whole front page to an environmental campaign. ‘Banish the Bag’, the Mail tells its readers today. And it’s not just the front page lead but fills pages 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9, plus an editorial by John Humphrys on page 14, and a leader column.

Wow. That’s not doing things by halves. If I hadn’t checked it three times I could’ve sworn I was holding The Independent.

Does this represent a major editorial shift? Has the Daily Mail decided to go green? What next, how to combat climate change?

Well, if the editorial stance has shifted, then the paper will have a job on its hands convincing its highly paid columnists, almost all of whom seem to believe that this whole global warming thing is some sort of massive cultish conspiracy.

It is, wrote John MacLeod in the Mail back on January 5th, “frankly, a religion; as arrogant and as bonkers as the most COMFORT doom-laden of the Armageddon sects, with its own priests, its own mysticism, its own intolerance, its own bigotry and its own lies”.

Climate change dissidents have, Melanie Phillips believes, been censored. The Mail columnist laments “the successful attempt to suppress debate over man-made global warming, with sceptical scientists deprived of grant funding and subjected to venomous smears”.

One of those dissidents, Martin Durkin, who made the (much criticised) Channel 4 film ‘The Great Global Warming Swindle’, is applauded by Richard Littlejohn for making a film which “outs the scientific case against man-made global warming”. It should, Littlejohn believes, be screened in schools alongside Al Gore’s film, ‘An Inconvenient Truth’”.

Peter Hitchens, writing in the Mail on Sunday, poo-poos environmental concerns and proudly reports that “LAST week I began to stockpile old-fashioned high-energy light bulbs. I suspect that it will not be long before they begin to disappear from the shops, and I have no intention of being forced to use the horrible, feeble, glaring low-energy bulbs that we are being ordered to employ. I don’t believe in man-made global warming”.

Christopher Booker argues, in both the Mail and the Sunday Telegraph, that “the latest evidence shows that, while CO2 levels are still rising, global temperatures are lower than they were ten years ago and may soon even fall” (this from a journalist with no scientific credentials – see previous blog).

And David Jones went as far as Churchill, Manitoba, in the Arctic Circle to find plentiful polar bears and locals who were convinced that “the world’s being conned by green scaremongers”. “Doomed?” asked Jones, “don’t you believe it”.

So does the campaign against plastic bags augur a sea change in the editorial direction of the UK’s best-selling mid market tabloid?

Or is it perhaps more likely that this is the fruit borne of the the close ties between Gordon Brown and Paul Dacre? Could it be that there is some link between the Daily Mail’s new campaign and a little reported speech by Gordon Brown last November in which the Prime Minister called for an end to the “single-use disposable” plastic bag? (reported here by Benedict Brogan in… the Mail).

Written by Martin Moore

February 27th, 2008 at 9:03 am

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