"I was really too honest a man to be a politician and live"
I recently attended a rather interesting debate hosted by the University of Westminster, concerning PR and spin and if they have undermined trust in politics. This was the motion and everybody in the audience had to vote for or against. Many things have been said throughout the years about spin and the manipulative techniques that politicians and their PR team use in order to persuade the public. Somebody will say: Isn’t this what PR is all about? Well, I’m not quite sure. It is hard for me to believe that politicians were the innocent human beings that seek the good of their people and one day PR people approached them, and told them: “Now we are going to make people not to trust you”.
During the debate, very interesting points were made by the speakers, Kevin Maguire, associate editor at the Daily mirror, and Shelia Gunn, former political journalist that was also John Major’s spokesperson, that were arguing for the motion and Lance Price, former deputy communications director in Downing Street, and Francis Ingham, chief executive of the PRCA that were on the opposing side. Do you want to know who “won”? Of course the majority voted against the motion. The crowd was mostly consisted of PR professionals or students so the outcome was foreseen. I read a comment in PR WEEK's coverage of the debate : “Turkeys voting for Christmas or what?!” That made me laugh because that was exactly what it happened. So we know what the industry thinks about spin, but what do people out there think about PR in politics? Was it PR that made politics shameful? Let’s take a look.
I bet that if you ask anyone in Britain about spin , the first thing that will come on the mind will be one name: Alastair Campbell. Campbell, was the director of Communications and Strategy for Prime Minister Tony Blair between 1997 and 2003 and one of the most famous spin doctors in the history. What made him so special? According to people from the PR industry, he is the one to blame for the loss of trust towards politicians as he was involved in the famous story of distortion of "The September Dossier" and played huge role in the Iraq war. If someone’s wants to be the devil’s advocate we could say that he was just doing what he was hired to do. But what implications such acts have in the PR industry? Does such people make the rest of the professionals look like a bunch of unethical and immoral creatures? And since we live in the era of the total depreciation of politics are the PR professionals, like Alistair Campbell the ones to blame?
I will borrow a quote from Kevin Maguire : “The spin doctors are taking over. We don’t have a prime minister. We have a prime spinner”. I have to admit that the comment is quite accurate but should we be so dogmatic? I personally come from a country (Greece) that political scandals are an everyday reality, we hear about politicians embezzling huge amounts of public money , scandals are coming to light daily. I don’t think that these politicians need help to blot their images. Lack of trust in politics hasn’t come up from the persuasive tactics of the PR professionals, it has come in the picture because of the undignified and bumptious behavior of the politicians that fail to be a good account to themselves. What do you think?
Here is an interesting video I found about political spin! Take a look!