Transparency and spin in politics

PR consultant and prominent Conservative blogger Ellee Seymour isn’t too impressed by Cameron’s appointment of ex-News of the World editor Andy Coulson as the Tory’s new PR chief. However, the most interesting part of her post is the discussion in the comments between Ellee and David Brain.

Ellee isn’t sure that an ex-tabloid editor is right for a world where she thinks politics must become more transparent:

“David, I am sure the Tories were/are not saints. The point I was trying to make is that the tide is turning and politicians need to have a more transparent approach. As I said, David Cameron is a very skilled media man, I am sure he has thought this through thoroughly and it could well be a very inspired choice, but the appointment will be questioned because Coulson has a tabloid background, like Campbell. I am naturally hoping it will be a very successful move.”

David Brain thinks it’s more complex:

I think everyone would want to have a transparent approach if they could. I’m just not sure that in politics today, in the media environment (let alone new media) we have today, any party, let alone one that has ambitions to govern, can be transparent all the time. The media have agendas at least as often as the politicians they cover and good news management (rather than distortion . . .I know you know the difference) is essential. i tend to think that someone who has come from a tabloid will have a good chance of getting that right. the biggest danger in my view of an ex journalist going straight into this type of role is the temptation to fight every battle rather than focus on the war as a whole. You should hope that Cameron has some good strategists in there too.

I’m with David on this. Personally I think it’s a myth that being transparent is necessarily more honest.

For example, do you think it would really improve government if cabinet meetings were open and transparent? It sounds great being able to hold cabinet ministers to account for what they say when deciding great matters of state.

In fact it would probably make things far worse, because the really frank discussions where the decisions are made, would then have to happen elsewhere, in secret, in a non-official setting without any rules or regulations.

The ‘discussion’ in public would simply be play acting to give the appearance of open and transparent government.

Being in a very senior position means having to make tough decisions where the answer is rarely black or white, but more often shades of grey.

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