Monday, February 22, 2010

How Spin Works - Part 2

Pity poor Christine Pratt. For whatever motive - irritation, perhaps, that she was hearing a story being denied by Downing Street which she knew to be true - she made the fateful decision to enter the political bear pit. She said that Downing Street was wrong to deny that there was any bullying at the heart of government, as her own charity, the National Bullying Helpline, had received complaints from No. 10 staff. At which point, Ms. Pratt became the target of a variety of spin efforts on the part of No.10, that might well qualify as a form of bullying in its own right. She was derided as a political operative, a stooge of the Conservatives, someone unfit to be running a national charity, a liar, an unreliable witness. She has also managed to lose all four of her national patrons as a result of the furore. So Ms. Pratt has seen at first hand just how aggressive the political world can be.

As for No. 10, it has pulled out all the stops to alleviate a damaging story. As I've already noted, they have managed to deny allegations that were not originally made. They have had the Dark Lord of Spin himself, Lord Mandelson, casting aspersions on anyone who has dared to suggest that Gordon Brown is anything other than merely 'driven' and 'passionate'. We've even seen John Prescott - yes, he of the flailing punch - step up to the cameras once again and assert, with his usual pugnacity, that of course there is no bullying at No. 10.

The government did have some time to prepare its response, as Patrick Wintour at the Guardian (The Observer's sister paper) reports today. The Conservative blogger Iain Dale reminds his readers of John Prescott's record, and of Peter Mandelson's earlier views of Gordon Brown. All of which adds up to a political whirlwind that may claim poor, unwary victims like Ms. Pratt, but is unlikely to significantly change the electoral arithmetic. There is an issue of character with regards to Gordon Brown, and there has always been an issue of spin, with New Labour (Mandelson, Brown and Blair's creation) in particular. But voters will still be more interested in who gets them out of an economic crisis most effectively.

3 comments:

consultant said...

Agree with your conclusion that the electorate will probably not let the current media circus distract from the economy as their main concern when casting their vote.

However, your portrayal of Christine Pratt as an innocent victim in all of this is completely wrongheaded.

First and foremost she purports to run a charity which offers confidential support and advice to people in a vulnerable situation. To so grossly abuse that position of trust by going public with details received in confidence is downright wrong. This is why her patrons have resigned, and for no other reason. She brought it on herself, and will reap the consequences.

On the matter of her political alignment or otherwise, I think it is instructive to note that the Charity's website carries on its front page a substantial quotation from David Cameron.

A quick consultation of the Charity Commission website reveals that the National Bullying Helpline (registered no. 1117852) is 207 days overdue on its 2008 annual return, whilst in 2007 had an income of £1,818 and expenditure of £852. This suggests a charity which is neither large ("national") nor properly run. But how many other charities of such magnitude can boat a front-page quotation from David Cameron? Some kind of link to the Tory party almost suggests itself.

A little more reading about the National Bullying Helpline tells a murkier story. Apparently they regularly recommend the commercial (and for-profit) services of HR & Diversity Management Ltd, a company owned by Christine Pratt and her husband. An extensive expose can be found here: http://thebullyinghelpline.blogspot.com/2009/08/why-not-to-ask-for-independent.html (note that was authored in August 2009, well before the Labour Party spin machine could have had any interest in smearing them).

So sorry Giles, in this instance your familiar theme of innocent bystander ruthlessly scythed down by the spin doctors doesn't hold water. Christine Pratt and her so-called charity are deserving of everything they get.

GM said...

Christine Pratt is a political novice who has carelessly stepped into the minefield. That her helpline may be small beer is irrelevant. Her political alignment cannot be determined by the fact that a Tory leader was willing to endorse an anti-bullying helpline - most anti-bullying initiatives will get warm support from politicians, but it doesn't necessarily indicate a political alignment.

Ms. Pratt was ill advised to make her comments, and we cannot determine her motives very clearly, except to suggest that a 'political plot' manipulated by the Tories seems wide of the mark. But then, such a suggestion is entirely typical of Peter Mandelson, a man whose own relationship with the truth is of a distinctly varied kind. Ann Widdecombe probably has it right - resigning as a patron over the breach of confidentiality, but heaping scorn on the Labour spin machine for its handling of the affair.

consultant said...

She violated the confidential relationship that her "helpline" offered to people in genuine distress. Whatever her motive her act was despicable. She was not targetted; she initiated this herself. I cannot see why you describe her act as "ill advised". It was a breach of trust of the most severe kind.