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Thursday, October 06, 2011

The dangers of spin

This morning's Independent relates the desperate scrabble by David Cameron's spin doctors to retrieve an embarrassing situation that they themselves created.

They say that it must have been a bad moment for David Cameron's chief spin master, Craig Oliver, known affectionately to the hacks as "Crazy Olive", when he saw the headlines in yesterday's papers demanding "Pay off your credit cards for the sake of the economy":

It was based on what journalists had been briefed that the Prime Minister was going to say in his speech – a pearl of prime ministerial wisdom that coincided with new official figures showing household consumption down by 0.8 per cent in the second quarter of this year, and Tesco reporting weak sales. Retailers must have thought that David Cameron wanted to see them go bankrupt.

But no, it was all a "misinterpretation" of what his spinners had spun, claimed the spinners as they spun around the conference centre trying to undo the damage. When he delivered the speech, Mr Cameron actually said something quite different, stating a fact – "Households are paying down the credit card and the store card bills" – rather than an exhortation.

But the fact remains that on Tuesday, the spinners handed out extracts from the Prime Minister's forthcoming speech on which were the words: "The only way out of a debt crisis is to deal with your debts. That means households – all of us – paying off the credit card and store card bills."

Somehow, a team of highly paid advisers headed by Mr Oliver entered these words into a computer, printed them out and handed them round without spotting the obvious interpretation that would be put on them. It's enough to make you cry "Bring Back Andy Coulson".

As Alistair Campbell reportedly said, when you become the story it is time to leave. It does not look that bad yet but Cameron certainly needs to rein in his spin doctors and get them to think more deeply about what they tell the media.

Of course this situation is not unique to the Conservatives. The Liberal Democrats certainly suffered from a similar faux pas when Menzies Campbell was leader. I remember too during the Labour-Welsh Liberal Democrat coalition in Wales between 2000 and 2003, some of our advisors got carried away in telling the media our position on GM crops, only to find that not only would the group not support their position but that Labour AMs also found the government position unpalatable.
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