Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Spin Doctor's Diary

Just to make sure I wasn't missing any kind of perspective on the lobby during Tony Blair's era I also got this more lightweight effort by Lance Price, a former colleague at the BBC who was headhunted by Labour just before their landslide win in 1997.

Lance is a nice bloke, but that place and time was no place for that breed of individual. Recruited by Campbell he has a little desk in a corridor outside Tony and Alastair's office. He is, to put it frankly, their bag man. If, in the days of the Spanish Inquisition Torquemada had appointed a cheery vicar to keep the pokers warm and carry the braziers, then this is the kind of diary he might have penned afterwards.

At first suffused by mission and purpose he slips all to easily into the trench warfare of rebuttal and counterspin. Each little story has to be dealt with by 'briefing' some partial truth or another to a matey hack, each day a 'trivial' headline which somehow Number 10 has to get the better of.
A serious man with real intelligence, Lance spends some of the book lambasting the media for their obsession with personality and trivia, then finds himself worrying about the presentation of a Prime Ministerial photo op with Westlife. Eventually the powers-that-be move him to the Labour HQ at Millbank to work with a virtually bankrupt party split down the middle between the friends of Gordon and everyone else.

Important decisions involving billions of pounds and people's lives are being taken, yet somehow this journal of an eyewitness close to events comes perilously close to Brian Rix farce. Prescott 'in a dreadful moment' is suprised without his trousers by our hero. Other ministers are stripped of their auras - Mo Mowlem, for example, is revealed as playing a weak hand badly in her dealings with Blair.

To be honest it's not bad, and Amazon are offering a good deal on it. But Campbell's memoir, for all its omissions and obvious rewriting after the fact, must now be ahead of the pack. Until Tony does his book, that is.

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