By Nicholas Jones
David Cameron’s relationship with the news media sparked a lively discussion between the blogger and broadcaster Iain Dale and Nicholas Jones, author of Campaign 2010: The Making of the Prime Minister, when they debated the issue at a meeting hosted by the National Union of Journalists.
‘Is coalition government the end of spin?’ was the question they had to address. Both agreed that effective political public relations was here to stay and they considered the successful presentation of the new government was due in large part to the way Conservative and Liberal Democrat spin doctors had put their political differences aside and had spent the first few months of the new administration working together.
Jones pointed to Cameron’s success in winning the backing of the Murdoch press and the all-important support of the Sun but Dale said the Prime Minister’s far greater achievement was to have won power without conceding too much to the agenda of either the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph newspaper groups, both of which had a fraught and fractious relationship with Cameron and his cabinet colleagues.
Dale said Andy Coulson, the Conservatives’ media chief who had become the new director of communications in Downing Street, had insisted from the start that Tory and Liberal Democrat spin doctors had to work together to limit the risk of counter briefings and talk of splits; Cameron had warned the coalition’s special advisers they would be sacked if they briefed journalists anonymously to attack each other.<!--more-->
‘Part of the remit of Labour’s special advisers was always to do the bidding of Tony Blair, Alastair Campbell and Peter Mandelson,’ said Dale. ‘And, I am a little sceptical as to whether the line drawn by Cameron and Coulson will hold and whether we will be saying the same thing in two years time.
‘Political journalists are behind the curve on understanding how the coalition is working. All political correspondents are looking for is splits and what they don’t get is that inter-personal relations between coalition ministers are good’.
Jones said it was the tribal loyalties of the Blairite and Brownite spin doctors which had proved such a divisive force for New Labour and it did seem, at least for the moment, that Cameron and Nick Clegg had broken the mould of political public relations.
But if there was any evidence that journalists were being fed with anonymous quotes attacking one side or the other it would be the first sign of a real fault line in the coalition and once a hostile briefing war began, Cameron and Clegg would soon find they were being threatened by instability from within as had been the case under both the Blair and Brown Premierships.
The debate was organised by the freelance and press and public relations branches of the NUJ (1.9.2010)