There is a fundamental question that underpins all politics. Do we really understand it? Not whether the general public has the cognitive ability to understand its various facets but whether the politics we see in action represents the true workings of our elected representatives. For some the role of the media is to shine a torch into a chasm of misinformation. For others the media is the fog machine at a children’s disco, we can still hear the commotion and the crying but never really can see what is going on.
The modern day spin-doctor can find its origins in Machiavelli’s masterpiece The Prince: ‘People are by nature changeable. It is easy to persuade them about some particular matter, but it is hard to hold them to that persuasion.’ The presentation of politics to an audience whom demand news instantly has become as important as the politics itself. In an age where news is delivered twenty-four hours a day we require individuals to package and deliver this news to us. These individuals take the guise of public relations experts or ‘spin doctors’ as they are popularly satirised. The media depend on them to offer news in a digestible and accessible format. When the public lacks the means or resources to delve behind the headlines, the way in which politics is sold to us means everything.
The smokescreen was, perhaps, finally penetrated under New Labour. Following Tony Blair’s election in 1997, the number of personnel employed in media and PR rose exponentially. Perhaps no better summed up in the guise of Alastair Campbell. Campbell himself stated that ‘The media are obsessed with spin doctors and with portraying them as a bad thing, yet seem addicted to our medicine.’ This is the very problem with politics of deception. On the one hand, we crave and rightly desire complete transparency in government whilst paradoxically seemingly need the accessible, if inaccurate, portrayal of politics that spin doctors offer. In essence, governments simply could not survive a hostile media without individuals such as Campbell. Whilst the media fills its pages with political spin we are necessarily attached to it.
In the current coalition government it is harder to identify a centre for political spin. In looking at the economy we find spin permeates all levels of government. After a 0.6% growth in the second quarter George Osborne brazenly stated that ‘the British economy is on the mend.’ The smoke screen is no more apparent when government ministers are willing to massage figures and offer misrepresentations to their electorate. When we consider that real pay is still falling and bank lending is
yet to increase any sort of growth must be tempered with skepticism. As Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, has said ‘we shouldn’t get over-excited.’ Spin is apparent in every area of politics and a smoke screen we cannot hope to penetrate.
Ultimately the smoke screen of political spin will forever be with us whilst we so readily buy into sensationalism and politics as an exact and predictable science. The media at its very best is the only hope we have of really understanding the motivations and decisions of politicians. Where the media is too ready to buy into easy explanations, or too keenly accept the stories they are offered, it is impossible to see past the smoke screen of what is an increasingly complex and opaque industry. The spin-doctor will forever lead us on a merry dance as long as we are willing to listen to his tune.