Nicholas Jones
“I will abide by civil service neutrality” says Downing Street’s new spin supremo. PDF Print E-mail

Simon Lewis, the Prime Minister’s new official spokesman, says he only took the job on condition it would be non political and that he would be able to conduct himself with civil service neutrality. Unlike previous Downing Street directors of communications such as Alastair Campbell, Lewis is not a Labour Party appointee.  He has accepted a two-year civil service contract and when asked (at a debate in London at the Reform Club 1.7.2009) whether he would like to remain at No.10 should David Cameron defeat Gordon Brown in the general election expected in May 2010, he made it clear he has an open mind and intends to wait and see what happens.

Appointing Lewis represents something of a departure for the Downing Street press office because he comes from the world of corporate communications and has not worked directly for the news media or been a career civil servant.His declaration that he would abide by civil service neutrality was perhaps only to be expected but he was adamant that wanted to be part of Britain’s “much under-rated permanent civil service” and help the government of the day achieve the level of transparency which the corporate sector had been forced to adopt.

Lewis spent two years at Buckingham Palace as the Queen’s press secretary in the aftermath of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, but most of his career has been with FTSE companies such as Nat West, Centrica and most recently Vodafone for which he was group director of corporate affairs.  His brother is Will Lewis, editor on chief of the Daily Telegraph, and the lesson he drew from the whole saga about the abuse of MPs’ expenses was that it would be unwise to write off the printed media because as a result of its exclusive coverage, the Telegraph had sold more newspapers than at any time since World War II and the death of Diana.

Lewis was adamant that the independence of the civil service needs to be sustained: As a civil servant in Downing Street I shall be communicating on behalf of the government, not on behalf of a political party.  I only accepted the job on that basis. Being a civil servant gives me more credibility and a sense of pride to be joining a much under-rated civil service…It is important there are people in the civil service who bring neutrality to communications…Authenticity in communications is the key, the more authentic the more likely the message will be received”.

When asked whether he would seek to curb the leaking of ministerial announcements in advance of parliamentary statements, Lewis acknowledged that the 24/7 media environment had forced politicians to respond to the news agenda and the response of the government had been that the “engine has to be fed”.  But he hoped politicians would come to realise that they “did not always have to respond to the media machine…Perhaps the political class have to find a new way to set the agenda”.

Part of the problem was that national politics had become “more prominent” than in the past and that local people had lost contact with local politics. He hoped that in the wake of the scandal about MPs’ expenses that people would engage more and “make a real contribution to localism”. 

One consequence of MPs being forced to accept greater disclosures about their pay and allowances was that it would in turn put pressure on the entire political process and the news media to become more transparent. Lewis believed that the corporate sector had gone further than either political parties or the news media to embrace transparency. 

Companies had been forced to be far more open about their financial affairs; full disclosure was required in annual accounts and reports and about directors’ remuneration.My hunch is that the British people will now have more influence on politics…I shall be interested to see what turnout we get in the next election and what local electors decide about some of the MPs who have been in the news”.

2.7.2009 END

 
Speaker’s call for an end to ministerial leaks: Downing Street’s new media chief could play a role PDF Print E-mail
 

24 June 2009 Nicholas Jones

 

Simon Lewis, the newly-appointed director of communications in Downing Street, might be forgiven for thinking his only role will be to pull down the shutters on the last chance saloon for the Labour Party’s discredited spin doctors. But although the Prime Minister has probably less than a year in power, Lewis does have an opportunity to turn a new page in the government’s relationship with the news media and roll back the abuses which were institutionalised by Alastair Campbell and which spawned the Damian McBride scandal. 
 
Nato strategist Jamie Shea gives chilling insight into military’s media control at times of war PDF Print E-mail

Gilligan and SheaLondon, May 1, 2009

Nicholas Jones

 

A chilling insight into the military mindset -- as explained by Nato’s leading media strategist Jamie Shea -- provided an unexpected but revealing talking point at UNESCO’s annual world press freedom day debate on the international media’s role at times of war.  Shea spoke in support of a motion that "governments at war are winning the battle of controlling the international media" -- a motion that carried the day by a majority of more than two to one.

 
The Rise and Fall of the Spin Doctor. PDF Print E-mail

Nicholas Jones, Coventry University Conversation

April 23, 2009

There is no doubt that there is a need for expert political advisers at the heart of government. Ministers should be free to draw on specialist advice, they should be able to hear an alternative opinion to that of the civil service. There is also no doubt that in the past there have been highly-politicised media handlers in previous Labour and Conservative governments. The names Joe Haines and Bernard Ingham spring immediately to mind.  But equally there is no doubt that it was the incoming Labour government of Tony Blair in 1997 which created the wheeler-dealing, shoot-from-the-hip political spin doctor of today, a party activist paid for by the taxpayer, pulling the strings in Downing Street and Whitehall. 
 
New Labour double-speak no cover-up for abuses of Damian McBride & Co PDF Print E-mail
Nicholas Jones , 19 April  2009

When a key Downing Street strategist was exposed as having used a No.10 computer to write a grotesque email smearing senior Conservatives it damaged not only the Prime Minister’s standing but also chipped away still further at the public’s faith in the way Britain is governed. Although Damian McBride was stupid enough to get caught, he was simply exercising the unbridled freedom which he and his fellow special advisers have been allowed to establish for themselves at an unacceptable cost to the impartiality of the civil service.Character assassination is now in the dna of Labour Party spin doctors but what made this lurid email so exceptional was that the allegations were entirely unsubstantiated and those targeted included the shadow chancellor’s wife.

 
Damian McBride fallout: Are the Conservatives’ attack dogs any better behaved? PDF Print E-mail

Nicholas Jones, 14 April, 2009 

Yet again the Labour Party is paying a heavy price for giving free rein to political attack dogs who have the status of civil servants but whose uncontrollable behaviour is undermining the democratic process.  Damian McBride’s crude attempt at smearing both the leader of the Opposition and the shadow chancellor is par for the course in the every day story of the apparatchiks on whom the Prime Minister and his cabinet colleagues have come to rely. 

But while Gordon Brown is rightly being blamed for having lost control of his politically-driven spin doctors, David Cameron should also be in the frame.  He too has some questions to answer.

 
Miners' strike anniversary: Journalists owe a collective apology over vindictive pit closures PDF Print E-mail

The soul searching of a former BBC correspondent

By Nicholas Jones, 12 March 2009

Just like the sustained scare story over weapons of mass destruction which preceded the war against Iraq, the year-long pit dispute was played out against an equally well-entrenched narrative aimed in this case at demonising the enemy within. For the British news media, the confrontation between Margaret Thatcher and Arthur Scargill had as much potency as the fight to the finish with Saddam Hussein. Many journalists have reflected ruefully on the way they were taken in by the pro-war propaganda of George Bush and Tony Blair in the months leading up to the US offensive in March 2003 and similarly when I think back to my reporting of the 1984-5 strike I have to admit that in the end I got ensnared by the seeming inevitability of the Thatcherite story line that the mineworkers had to be defeated in order to smash trade union militancy.

 
Max Clifford salving his conscience as Jade Goody’s father figure PDF Print E-mail

Nicholas Jones 23 February 2009
Max Clifford has been trying his hardest to re-invent himself by becoming a father figure to the terminally-ill reality television star Jade Goody but while he might be hoping to salve his conscience he cannot undo all the damage he has inflicted over the years by helping to legitimise cheque-book journalism. 

Not only has he stoked up the public’s appetite for the seedier side of paid-for-journalism -- through what he calls “a game…my way of life” -- but he has also encouraged and sustained the often pitiful ingenuity of those who seek to exploit it. By advising his clients on how to make “a financial killing” from newspapers and television for stories such as kiss-and-tells, Clifford has inspired and empowered countless other individuals who have the imagination and cunning to take advantage of the un-controlled competitive forces which are currently at play within the news and entertainment media. 

 
Gordon Brown should "clean up" his act on spin PDF Print E-mail

Nicholas Jones 26 January, 2009

Gordon Brown has been given the clearest warning that it is time he and his ministers cleaned up their act and stopped the advance leaking of government announcements. A House of Lords committee says the Prime Minister and his cabinet colleagues have it in their power to rein in the Labour spin doctors who are ignoring the ministerial code of practice and leaking confidential statements and data to friendly journalists.

As a first step towards restoring trust in government information, the Prime Minister should agree to the immediate televising of Downing Street lobby briefings which could be broadcast live on the Downing Street website.

After reviewing the failure of previous attempts to curb abuses of the system by politically-appointed special advisers, the House of Lords Select Committee on Communications says in a report (published 26.1.2009) that there is no excuse for continued breaches of the rules and the frequent pre-empting of government announcements.

 
Labour’s hypocrisy over leaks and Damian Green’s arrest PDF Print E-mail

Nicholas Jones, 3 December 2008

Labour cannot shrug off the charge of hypocrisy over the arrest of the Conservative shadow minister Damian Green because under the Blair and Brown governments successive Home Secretaries have engaged in the deliberate and systematic leaking of their own decisions in order to gain political advantage.

Jacqui Smith’s private office at the Home Office was no different to any other in Whitehall. Right across the various government departments, Labour’s political spin doctors have shown scant regard for the confidentiality of ministerial announcements and they have regularly been trailed in advance through leaks to sympathetic journalists.

The poisonous legacy of Tony Blair’s action in doubling and then trebling the number of ministerial special advisers has been a rapid acceleration in the politicisation of the flow of information from the state to the news media.

 
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