This week we’ve seen what may turn out to be the past and future of Labour politics.
The past came in the form of the publication of Alastair Campbell’s diaries. This was a launch tightly controlled in the way New Labour perfected in opposition over ten years ago. Campbell made himself available for big interviews on BBC One with Andrew Marr on Sunday (watch here), and on Radio Four with John Humphrys on Monday (listen here) - but neither of them was allowed to see a copy of the book before they did the interview.
There was no newspaper serialisation of extracts, as there often is with political books – Campbell said he didn’t want to cash in by using the papers he’d so often attacked. The only extracts available were the ones chosen by Campbell himself and published on his own website.
And as Nick Robinson points out on his Newslog even the entire book itself - once you get hold of a copy - is just “extracts” from Campbell’s diaries, chosen by him for political reasons, rather than a full unexpurgated record of his time as Tony Blair’s press secretary.
So it could be argued this was the old politics of spin – tell people what the story is before they have a chance to work it out for themselves, and then tell them only what you want them to hear rather than the full story.
That’s the past. The future seems to be the style adopted by Gordon Brown’s government for launching its policies. Already we’ve seen this a few times – last week John Denham, the man in charge of Higher Education, surprised some journalists by not sending out his advisers to brief ahead of a Commons statement on changes to student grants; on Tuesday, the Schools Secretary, Ed Balls, was making a Commons statement, similarly without pre-briefing; and Gordon Brown is due to tell the Commons on Wednesday about his future legislative plans - we can guess at the content, but so far, no briefing.
This is an interesting change. If the government sticks with it, we’ll no longer be waking up to stories saying “the prime minister will today announce…”, followed by an interview with a minister who - after insisting he mustn’t pre-empt his leader’s statement to parliament - then proceeds to spell out the key details. Instead, we’ll all have to wait till the PM or minister actually makes his announcement in the Commons.
No bad thing you may say. Certainly that’s the reaction from my colleagues at BBC Parliament, who are naturally pleased when government policy is revealed first in the chamber. On the other hand, you may feel you like due warning of what’s coming up, so you can judge whether to tune in to a government statement on News 24 or Five Live. What’s your view?