‘I don’t like the way Labour have spun that story’


by Sunny Hundal    
12:11 am - December 20th 2012

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One evening last week I got a call from someone within Labour’s communications team. I was told that Ed Miliband was going to make a speech the following morning about cultural integration and diversity in the UK.

I was then explained the context, why Miliband thinks it’s important to make the speech, and what he means by various policies. The main points were discussed over the phone and later sent to me by email. The story was embargoed for 6am the next morning so I could at least write about it in advance.

I say all this only to give you some context. When people complain about how Labour spins a story in the tabloids, and say they don’t have a problem with the contents of a speech but only with the way it is spun to the media – they are being naive.

After I got the speech in advance, I could pick out whatever segment I wanted and spin it how I wanted. But I’m just a blogger. Most of the people they’re dealing with are seasoned senior editors at national tabloids and broadsheets.

People on the left must think those editors are so gullible they’ll take whatever spin the Labour media operation offers them. It makes no sense. Those editors will always spin stories on immigration to say see, we were right all along!.

Most of the tabloid media support the Conservative party. They dislike Ed Miliband. They have always hated the party’s stance on immigration. It beggars belief to think they’ll take tips from Labour communications team on how to write the story, or spin it any other way than to bash immigrants.

Yes, there is spin and it is fairly easy to spot. Give them a populist hook: twice, Ed Miliband has made Jeremy Clarkson the target of his ire in speeches so the media would pick that up. It can sometimes work.

But it is bit silly to assume that every time the tabloid press report on a speech by Labour leaders on issues such as immigration or housing, the party spin operation is to blame. It just doesn’t work like that. You’re giving the Labour’s communication operations far too much credit.

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Reader comments


Increasingly pointless coming to this site, it appears all comment is reserved for Twitter.

Perhaps it would go better if the leader of the labour party didn’t engage in dog whistling to go for the racist bigot vote.

There you go, Sunny. The usual knee-jerk response to any discussion about immigration: righties hate it, lefties see it as racist to even go there, with nary a thought from either about the reality of what’s happening in some parts of the country.

Preconceived ideas and cognitive bias abound in the comments section!

I think there’s a certain naivety about people’s attitudes to ‘spin’ in general. Used honestly, spin is a good thing, and certainly preferable to just releasing plain facts without any attempt to define the ‘take-home message’.

Suppose you’re the party in power and you’ve conducted a review of NHS practices that reveals many highly-trained, well-paid, hard-to-find clinical staff are spending a large proportion of their time on simple but essential admin tasks rather than patient care. So you make the decision that over the next few years, instead of prioritising the hiring of clinical staff to keep up with increasing demand, you’ll prioritise the hiring of admin staff who can perform those tasks more cheaply and free up clinical staff to care for patients.

A few years on, various facts are due to enter the public domain. The proportion of the NHS budget spent on admin staff has gone up. The number of hours spent on patient care by clinical staff has gone up (both in absolute terms and per pound spent on the NHS). The rate of growth in admin staff has exceeded the rate of growth in clinical staff.

Now: is the thing to do here simply to put those facts out there unspun? You can be absolutely sure, after all, that your political opportunists will be quick to put *their* spin on those facts. There’s also a risk of editors, who may not know about the historical issue of clinical staff spending too much time on admin tasks, simply failing to spot the story those facts are telling. So there’s a real prospect of the next day’s headlines reading “EXPLOSION IN NHS BUREAUCRACY”, “SCANDAL OF THE WASTED BILLIONS: NHS ADMIN SPENDING HITS NEW HIGH”, “PENSPUSHERS FIRST, NURSES SECOND: GOVERNMENT’S TWISTED PRIORITIES ON NHS”, etc. etc.

So *of course* you’re going to put your own spin on that story. You’re going to make sure your press release reads “NHS EFFICIENCY DRIVE DELIVERS BEST-EVER VALUE FOR MONEY: an initiative to improve patient care by freeing nurses from admin tasks has delivered impressive results, new figures reveal”. You’re going to phone editors and remind them what you were trying to achieve and why, and draw their attention to the figures on hours of patient care per pound spent. To ‘stick to the facts’ and leave people to make their own minds up would be incredibly naive.

@3

Preconceived ideas and cognitive bias abound in the comments section!

No less so than from yourself.

Oh Ben, I was expecting that! We all suffer from cognitive biases. The point is to be aware of it when you need to.

“People on the left must think those editors are so gullible they’ll take whatever spin the Labour media operation offers them. It makes no sense. Those editors will always spin stories on immigration to say see, we were right all along!.”

But both government and opposition press officers offer incentives such as exclusive interviews with ministers / shadow ministers in exchange for favourable treatment.

One of the most blatant spins on the part of both the Right and the Left is the idea that New Labour is ‘soft’ on immigration when history shows that, given the power, they will happily incarcerate the children of asylum seekers.

I actually use ‘spin’ to get me through the day – only cognitive behaviour therapy calls it ‘reconceptualization’.

Most political ‘debate’ is a struggle over ‘reframing’ the issue, which is essentially the struggle between different spins, which are the rhetorical forms that frames take. Quite often the ‘debate’ is a clash between incomensurate frames; there’s no hope of coming to an agreement because there really isn’t an objective frame to measure the competing arguments against. In these cases the outcome can only ever be decided by the relative popularity of particular spins.

Cherub #3 – ain’t that the truth.

“You’re giving the Labour’s communication operations far too much credit.”

Nah, they knew exactly what they were doing. At least 15 years of being the best in the business….

Some of their former staff now run courses for organizations on dealing with the media, one of the sessions is exactly about the lesson that tabloids will pick the line that reinforces their editorial policy regardless of context. So don’t give them the ammunition, unless you want to.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    'I don't like the way Labour have spun that story' http://t.co/8xZ9hiX2

  2. Jason Brickley

    ‘I don’t like the way Labour have spun that story’ http://t.co/UCQydxwF

  3. Sopwith Camel

    'I don't like the way Labour have spun that story' http://t.co/8xZ9hiX2

  4. Ben Diamond

    'I don't like the way Labour have spun that story' http://t.co/8xZ9hiX2

  5. Wendy Hibbs

    'I don't like the way Labour have spun that story' http://t.co/8xZ9hiX2

  6. Sunny Hundal

    People who say ‘I don’t like the way Labour have spun that story’ on immigration are usually being naive http://t.co/1q63c613

  7. flyingrodent

    'I don't like the way Labour have spun that story' http://t.co/8xZ9hiX2

  8. Graham Day

    @sunny_hundal Maybe, but in that case why make a speech about immigration? http://t.co/0BEQBz4H via @libcon

  9. Tom Miller

    People who say ‘I don’t like the way Labour have spun that story’ on immigration are usually being naive http://t.co/1q63c613

  10. Tom Williams

    ‘I don’t like the way Labour have spun that story’ | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/pJMLhAKs

  11. leftlinks

    Liberal Conspiracy – ‘I don’t like the way Labour have spun that story’ http://t.co/BQDukkDk

  12. Tom Chivers

    Great piece by @sunny_hundal about the reality of 'spin' and who's really doing the spinning http://t.co/DnuKIQFz @libcon

  13. Sunny Hundal

    Great piece by @sunny_hundal about the reality of 'spin' and who's really doing the spinning http://t.co/DnuKIQFz @libcon

  14. msatonienne

    Great piece by @sunny_hundal about the reality of 'spin' and who's really doing the spinning http://t.co/DnuKIQFz @libcon

  15. puddy pad

    People who say ‘I don’t like the way Labour have spun that story’ on immigration are usually being naive http://t.co/1q63c613

  16. Fahad

    Monty Panesar Surely? RT @TMChivers: Great piece by @sunny_hundal abt who's really doing the spinning http://t.co/3rkMlI4x @libcon

  17. Jonathan Wood

    People who say ‘I don’t like the way Labour have spun that story’ on immigration are usually being naive http://t.co/1q63c613

  18. Sunny Hundal

    People who say ‘I don’t like the way Labour spun that story’ on immigration are usually being naive http://t.co/1q63c613

  19. chiller

    People who say ‘I don’t like the way Labour spun that story’ on immigration are usually being naive http://t.co/1q63c613

  20. Robert CP

    ‘I don’t like the way Labour have spun that story’ | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/sfpN47oA via @libcon

  21. Mark Nixon

    People who say ‘I don’t like the way Labour spun that story’ on immigration are usually being naive http://t.co/1q63c613

  22. Arun Mehta

    Sunny Hundal: "I don’t like the way Labour have spun that story." http://t.co/BMgH22tH via @libcon

  23. Sunny Hundal

    My piece > people who complain about how Labour Party spins speeches (on immigration) are being naive http://t.co/1q63c613

  24. Murray

    In which Sunny argues those objecting to Labour's dogwhistle racism "are being naive": http://t.co/hqYW6caA

  25. salardeen

    My piece > people who complain about how Labour Party spins speeches (on immigration) are being naive http://t.co/1q63c613

  26. CareFucker

    In which Sunny argues those objecting to Labour's dogwhistle racism "are being naive": http://t.co/hqYW6caA

  27. NORBET

    My piece > people who complain about how Labour Party spins speeches (on immigration) are being naive http://t.co/1q63c613

  28. 50ShadesOfBeige

    ‘I don’t like the way Labour have spun that story’ | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/cdgR0jOJ via @libcon

  29. Paul Trembath

    ‘I don’t like the way Labour have spun that story’ | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/cdgR0jOJ via @libcon

  30. niriop

    ‘I don’t like the way Labour have spun that story’ | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/Hx56HCXy via @libcon





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