When the spin becomes ridiculous

There has been some excellent journalism on the back of Tom Harris’ rose-tinted blog about the economic joys of modern Britain. I marvel at how much he does not understand – his political sense was as lacking as his economic knowledge.

The trouble is, we have a generation of politicians brought up in the soundbite-ridden, spin-doctor-controlled, pager-message-driven world of Blairite vacuity. It says on the Labour pager we’ve never had it so good, so he writes it on his blog. Does he not read the emails and letters from his constituents, telling him how the shoe is pinching? Doesn’t he go out knocking on doors and hear how frightened people are of the Council Tax Bill, the home energy bill and the visit to the filling station? Has he no idea how difficult it is to manage, when the prices of basics are shooting up 1970s-style, whilst most people’s incomes are heavily constrained and even more heavily taxed?

Worse still, the spin doctors and allied message makers clearly know little economics. They ignore the way the UK has been falling further and further behind the fast growing lower tax countries. They forget the 5.5million people of working age without a job. They watch helplessly as the twin deficits, government and balance of payments, balloon. They assume the UK government can carry on living on credit at exactly the same time as the private sector is being strongly squeezed to curb excess borrowing.

It’s not just a minor figure like hapless Tom – he speaks for the whole government. They all talk in sound-bites, crafted by marketing people and based on extensive polling. Tom’s mistake was to flesh out the approved sound-bite that the “government has presided over continuous growth and created economic stability” a little too much so the gulf between what the government wants us to believe and the reality of daily life in modern Britain becomes so huge.

It’s a rum kind of stability, if you saw the way the authorities lurched from feast to famine in the money markets last year. It’s not that stable out there if you are an estate agent, in commercial property, or a housebuilder. It doesn’t feel like growth if you are running a small shop or other service business at a time when people’s disposable incomes are being squeezed. The soundbite rolls on. The more they say it, the more people disbelieve them. When one of them tries to unpack it and give it some more life, you see how ridiculous the whole thing is.

Labour have created an edifice of warm words which have grown further and further away from the reality of the country they are governing. That has increased people’s impatience and cynicism about politics. Now we learn that the Prime Minister does not want a full Parliament next time in the unlikely event that he wins. Has he learnt nothing from the Blair resignation debacle? Does the UK really deserve another PM who invites challengers for his crown because he says he wants to quit but wont name the day? Is there anyone in Labour capable of responding to the challenge?

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7 Comments

  1. Cliff
    Posted June 21, 2008 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    John:

    Everyone knows if a Labour minister says something it must be true, after all, Nanny knows best!!

    I could not believe the arrogance of the man. He should try living in the world the average working person lives in. It just shows how detatched from reality some members of the Labour government really are. I think they have started to believe their own spin and statistics. (AKA Fairy tales)

    I know something that would cheer the miserable public up; Call a general election.

  2. adam
    Posted June 21, 2008 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    If things are so great then can we have a big tax cut?
    Ahhhh.
    Fat chance.

    Labour are the sustainable development party, they are the socialists who want to destroy consumerism because to them its wasteful and damages the planet.
    I wont take any lectures on luxury from a bunch of 'ex' communists.

  3. Derek
    Posted June 21, 2008 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    It's not just the politicians who are disconnected from reality. I have long thought that the political and media classes have been joined together in their own little world of spin and manipulation. The media kept suggesting Brown's popularity was still strong long after the electorate had given up on him. So much of the commentary about speeches and policy is hot air that has no resonance with the electorate.

    Many politicians of all stripes make the simple error of forgetting the public has access to the same modern communications that they do. They have mobile telephones, text messaging, blogs and, certainly younger people, keep up with university friends from geographical locations all around the country or world. At their disposal is a vast pool of anecdotal evidence about whose lost their job or what someone has sold their house for. They have become aware that the message peddled by politicians and the media is not the reality they know and increasingly question it.

    Previously if you mentioned to someone the news is all propaganda, you'd get that shifty eyed look as if you'd strayed into a discussion about religion or UFOs. Not so anymore. It looks like the BBC is going to carry on trilling 'four legs good, two legs bad' all the way to its licence fee removal and oblivion.

    David Cameron needs to be very careful as he's tainted with this. At the moment he seems to be just disliked less than Brown. I think next time round the public will be looking for older, plain speaking more real world experienced politicians to dig us out of what will be an unholy mess. I think this goes some way to explaining Vince Cable's recent popularity. A youthful, untested, Blair won power when the economy was strong. This won't be so for David Cameron and a think following too similar strategy to Blair may well be a grave mistake.

  4. Steven_L
    Posted June 21, 2008 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

    It's not just some politicans that are so clueless about reality, Whitehall can be just as bad if you ask me. Take the Department of Health and their consultation on more smoking restrictions. On one hand they want the government to tax cigarettes more to make them more expensive, on the other hand they want to crack down on the black market. Anyone with even a pinch of an understanding of basic economics should realise that if the price of cigarettes is fixed even higher by the government, the size of the black market will increase providing there is a less expensive supply. Seen as we can pop to Spain and back in a day, get change off £100 and bring home 3,200 fags without HM Customs asking any awkward questions I would suggest that the supply is so easy that most foreign fags couldn't even be classed as 'black market'. Then if they think local authorities are going to pay officers to sit in working mens clubs drinking John Smiths and spying on people selling rolling tobacco they have another thing coming.

    Of course, Gordon Brown could help them out here. If he removed the tax on fags and told us that he wanted us all to take up smoking to solve the pensions crisis I reckon at least 20% of smokers would quit overnight and the 'black market' would be gone at a stroke. I know I would, but whilst they are still harping on like they are I just smoke in defiance.

  5. Ian Evans
    Posted June 21, 2008 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

    GB's talk of not taking the Nulabs through a second general election is not likely to lead to mid-term problems of the type TB suffered from, since his chance of getting through the coming general election with a majority is lower than my chance of winning the next lottery draw (I don't waste my money!). He is clearly just hoping it will stop challenges before the next election. Whilst that might be good for the coming Tory majority, I would rather see a more credible PM – after all, the lack of credible opposition for much of Blair's premiership surely exacerbated his disastrous misrule. Just so, I think Cameron et al need something better than the current shambolic government to push against and against which to hone their future leadership strategy.

  6. emma2000
    Posted June 22, 2008 at 1:51 am | Permalink

    What can we expect, MP's salary is only pocket money, we pay for everything else. Of course they have no idea what it is like for normal salary earning mugs.

  7. Paul
    Posted July 2, 2008 at 12:43 am | Permalink

    I agree with you Johb; however, i don't think the Tories can do anything to address any of these problems either.

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    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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