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John Rentoul

John Rentoul is chief political commentator for The Independent on Sunday, and visiting fellow at Queen Mary, University of London, where he teaches contemporary history. Previously he was chief leader writer for The Independent. He has written a biography of Tony Blair, whom he admired more at the end of his time in office than he did at the beginning.

"The Independent's must-read man" - Daniel Finkelstein

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Brown's "noble experiment"

Posted by John Rentoul
  • Tuesday, 23 February 2010 at 11:50 am
While we are mining books about politics for valuable nuggets, there is some good stuff in Lance Price's Where Power Lies that seems to have been overlooked.

It was serialised in The Independent on 11 February, and had new quotations from Damian McBride, Gordon Brown's former press secretary, talking about Brown's attempt to change the relationship between Downing Street and the media: 

It was a noble experiment but probably doomed to failure in the age we live in.

Up to a point. McBride is also quoted in the book (page 397) in a passage that was not included in The Independent, saying that Brown and he wanted to end the practice of giving exclusives to individual newspapers to try to keep them sweet. They wanted to
kill the idea that there were factions within the one government rather than one team working together ... We were probably guilty of it in the Treasury, selective briefing and playing favourites. But it ends up pissing off every other paper ... You might get a good hit in one paper but that invited a backlash in all the other papers.

Well, sinner that repenteth and all that.

The big problem with the new strategy for media handling was that it arose from a political imperative, not a communications one, as "one of those who joined Brown" when he became Prime Minister told Price:
No more spin was the new spin. Almost everything they did in the initial phase was simply about delineating themselves from what Blair and Campbell had done.

That is where Brown went wrong. Rather than treating all newspapers equally, he and McBride cultivated relationships with the Mirror, the Daily Mail and The Daily Telegraph, just because Blair gave priority to The Sun and The Times. Price quotes (page 399) "one very senior civil servant" who found it
much harder to understand the strategic value of Gordon's media relationships. Blair and News International struck me as an entirely rational relationship. You could exactly see the calculation was about what you get in return. With Gordon and the Mail it's much harder to see what the pay-back is.


Lance Price's Where Power Lies
dsj05 wrote:
Tuesday, 23 February 2010 at 12:16 pm (UTC)
"seems to have been overlooked"

"It was serialised in The Independent..."

These facts may be related.


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