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A fresh spin-cycle?

Gary Smith | 16:47 UK time, Friday, 1 June 2007

Next month, two 38 year old men are taking over communications for the two main political leaders - but their age is about all they have in common.

Gordon Brown has chosen Mike Ellam, a career civil servant, to be his main spokesman; David Cameron has gone for Andy Coulson, a former News of the World editor. Ellam has spent years behind the scenes at the Treasury; Coulson spent years winning newspaper awards through sex scandal scoops – in one busy year, his paper exposed David Beckham, Sven Goran Eriksson and David Blunkett – until he resigned over the royal phone-tapping affair.

Political journalists at Westminster will have plenty of contact with Ellam who’ll conduct the daily Downing Street briefings, making him the official voice of Gordon Brown. They’ll probably have less to do with Coulson though, who might well prefer to use his links to Fleet Street editors to get the Tory message across at a higher level.

The fact that Coulson worked for Rupert Murdoch will not have been a hindrance in his getting the job: it’s seen as important for the Tories to win over the likes of The Sun and the Times. The appointment of an ex-Murdoch man may however go down less well in the newsrooms and boardrooms of the Telegraph and the Mail.

Political leaders taking on top journalists is not a new idea. Most famously, on the Labour side, Alastair Campbell became Tony Blair’s press chief after being political editor of the Daily Mirror. Before him, another newspaperman, Joe Haines, did the same job for Harold Wilson, and went on to be political editor of the Mirror after he left Downing Street.

Over the years, the Tories have scoured Fleet Street to recruit their spin doctors too. Margaret Thatcher’s chief press secretary, Bernard Ingham - who was at her side throughout her premiership - had a past as a Labour Relations correspondent on the Guardian. And William Hague was looked after by Amanda Platell, who’d been sacked as editor of the Sunday Express for running a story on Peter Mandelson’s relationship with a Brazilian man.

This time the word around Westminster was that David Cameron was looking for a top TV journalist, because he was particularly keen to try to get his message right on the TV bulletins. So the announcement that Coulson had got the job came as a bit of a surprise. Insiders say he’s very pleasant, charming and dynamic, but to date few have detected in him a profound interest in party politics.

So when the two men take over next month – Coulson the tabloid editor versus Ellam the Treasury boffin– we’ll be entering a new spin-cycle in British politics. Whose style will get the message across best? We should of course remember that both party leaders have hinted that the age of spin is past, so maybe the biggest change will actually be a new era of straight talking.


  • 1.
  • At 05:22 PM on 01 Jun 2007,
  • Alex wrote:

What a wonderful closing comment :)

  • 2.
  • At 05:39 PM on 01 Jun 2007,
  • Andrew Dundas wrote:

We're two years from the presumed election date: June 2009 (when the Euro-Parliament election is also due). The traditional election deciders are not media stories but personal feel-good factors (usually economic)and whether people are angry about some short-coming of the government.
Can the Tories find something to provoke sufficient discontent? Right now they have 'slaughter in Iraq' and the recent very slow growths in personal disposable incomes to exploit. Neither has gained much traction for them in the opinion polls. Will Coulson or anyone else find a way of exploiting fresh causes of discontent? I doubt it.

Why are spin-doctors given so much importance? Shouldnt Gordon Brown and David Cameron be facing the cameras more often and be expressing their views directly to the voters?Why should they be cushioned by their spokesmen? Voters want to see potential PMs answering a wide range of questions as often as possible before they make up their minds on whom to vote for. Hiding behind their spokesmen is not good enough! We should not be looking at the qualities of spin-doctors but rather at the real qualities of politicians wanting to lead from the helm. Why are leading politicians so shy of the camera? Have they lost their voices?

  • 4.
  • At 03:47 PM on 02 Jun 2007,
  • Ozzie wrote:

Interesting intro, but Andy Coulson is actually 39.

  • 5.
  • At 11:10 PM on 02 Jun 2007,
  • Penrose Feast wrote:

Mr David Cameron promised an end to 'Punch-and-Judy' politics when he became Tory party leader. That lasted about 3 weeks or so!

Mr Coulsons engaement might suggests that the Cameron Camp may want to present a snappy headline-ish sound-bite laden, common sense, voice-of-reason type of attack in the coming battle for the 'hearts and minds' of swingable voters at the nest general election.

Mr Ellem's appointment could suggests that the Brown Brigade might want to hammering home weighty facts and figures, as a kind of auditable testemeny of Labours achievements while in power, as their gambit for success.

But all of that might still count for naught in the end. I think 'the environment' and related issues will come to have more of an effect on the UK's perception of politics and what politicians are for than any amount of dialectical prestidigitational points scoring by the major players.

And when it comes to chasing down green credentials, Cameron is well out of his starting blocks, whereas Brown is still unlacing his brogues and trying to figure out which way round his jockstrap goes on.

  • 6.
  • At 10:20 AM on 03 Jun 2007,
  • Peter, Fife wrote:

Are you not being too willing to continue your use of the word spin which seems to be on the top of most journalists’ tool boxes?
Would it not be more accurate to say that Gordon Brown has employed an establishment figure to be his political spokesman whereas David Cameron has chosen a muck raker from a red top Sunday newspaper; this based on the information you have supplied.

I have never truly been comfortable with the term spin, which I see clearly is an attempt to indicate that efforts at Public Relations are being intentionally misrepresented; I feel Edward Bernays has a lot to answer for.

David Cameron’s obvious objective of re-branding the Conservative party as per the successful attempts and results that were achieved by Tony Blair’s efforts vis-à-vis the Labour Party seem to be failing; could it be that the plan has been devised is too simplistic to succeed?
When Labour changed, opposition came from those who oppose everything associated with change and those who felt it was right to be seen to be publicly opposing changes; changes to what were perceived as Labour's sacred cows.
Those who oppose all before them would only be satisfied with central control, funding, ownership and population compliance that was to be seen in the old communist block or China; North Korea and Cuba are two examples of those who resist change.
Within the Labour Party were many who would welcome change but were unwilling to stand up and be counted; these people preferred to adopt the ‘don’t blame me attitude, this was forced upon us.’ Gone was any guilt associated with the decision making process if it all went wrong they could say ‘I told you so.’

The difference with the Conservative of today and Labour of the late 1990’s lies in those willing to accept change and whether or not they are prepared to publicly declare their position; the grass roots Conservatives have kept a low profile not wishing to upset the apple cart that is the Conservatives resurgence in the polls hoping that later they could restate the sacred cows of Conservatism.
Whilst David Cameron’s plan that was produced from one of his think tanks, the one that is his old Etonian Shadow Cabinet was fuelled with ideas to move Conservatives from their political extreme to the ground currently occupied by Labour; they seem to be unaware or unconcerned that Conservatives at large are not willing to change, the old Conservative values of elitism exist even though in reality they are not as elitist as they feel they are, these are the Conservative dinosaurs.

Until the unstated changes that happened in the majority Labour party supporters happens in the majority of Conservative minds no leader will be able to repeat the modifications that happened in/to the Labour Party, albeit whilst still leaving room for protestations for those who do not wish to be seen as 100% compliant.

I cannot comment as yet on Gordon Brown as leader as I must have been absent from school when predictions and mind reading was being taught; I shall wait and evaluate performance rather than speculate.

  • 7.
  • At 08:32 PM on 03 Jun 2007,
  • Ryan wrote:

The Tories will have plenty of fodder for Coulson! Think about it Gordon Brown has been in power for the last 10 years. If anything goes wrong (which seems guaranteed with the governments current ineptitude) it will be Gordon's fault... he can't keep on blaming the tories for things that were done over a decade ago!

  • 8.
  • At 03:13 PM on 04 Jun 2007,
  • Lee McEneaney wrote:

Spin doctors should not be allowed anywhere near poltics. Is it any wonder so many people are turned off by poltics when it's basically a planned, staged, branding exercise thought up not by the political leaders but by hired marketing men. What an absolute joke politics is becoming, and what a wasted opportunity by David Cameron who could have abandoned spin doctors entirely and shown the public that he is not a Tony Blair wannabe! We need transparency not spin

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