For more than ten years, New Labour somehow managed to keep the media on board with their own version of the political narrative. Critics called it ‘spin’ from the outset; but whatever you call it, it’s a pretty impressive achievement. Now they seem to have lost it, completely.
I heard a journalist on the radio the other day, talking about the way the story about someone nicking Cameron’s bike was reported. It was reported as a reasonably straight story, with Cameron being the victim of theft. The journalist went on to say that it would have been reported quite differently had it been Brown and his bike. The story then would have been about a hapless idiot leaving his bike unattended in a public place.
It’s true isn’t it? ‘The media’ have decided what the political narrative is, and every individual news item is presented in that light. So, even if Brown and Cameron do and say exactly the same thing, one will be made out to be fresh and exciting, and the other dull and tired.
Is it fair? Well, no, of course not. At one level, it shows the power which ‘the media’ now wield. I’ll admit that I’m not entirely sure to what extent the media are creating a particular narrative about Brown and Labour, and to what extent they are merely reflecting the views of the public at large. That’s impossible to assess, it seems to me. At the very least, the public mood had to be ready to accept and identify with the change of narrative before the media could influence it. But the narrative has changed, however one analyses cause and effect, and the downward spiral has become self-reinforcing.
Whether fair or not, it is remarkably similar to what happened to John Major and the Tories. I thought that Major was a sincere and honest sort of person (dare I say 'a regular sort of guy'?), however much I disagreed with him. And I really didn’t think his government was any more prone to ‘sleaze’ than its predecessor - or its successor. But sleaze became the narrative, and every story confirming that was seized on as evidence.
On that occasion, Labour benefited from the narrative; on this occasion they are the victims. There’s a certain poetic justice there, somehow. Those who live by the sword…