Apart from taking a sneaky look at the rather risque pictures of Samantha Cameron over someone’s shoulder on the tube, the only paper I have seen today is The Guardian.
And every now and then, you just have to hold up your hands and say ‘well done, well done’ to someone from the other side of the political fence, no matter how much you want to persuade yourself in the interests of party tribalism that all your enemies are hopeless indiiduals of no merit whatever.
I refer to whichever Tory Spin Doctor (TSD) was responsible for the briefing to The Guardian’s Nick Watt, which appears as a ‘special report’ (mmmm) on pages 12 and 13.
‘Cameron unplugged …’ runs the headline across the top of both pages ‘Tory plan to gain a head start over Brown.’
Now as we all know, a picture tells a thousand words and the picture beneath this headline was of David Cameron, with a big smile on his face, leading the way in yesterday’s Sport Relief mile. He has both feet off the ground, suggesting he is really motoring.
So good headline, well done TSD. Good picture, ditto.
But it is in the briefing that I really detect the hand of a top notch TSD, not just an average bog-standard briefer.
Here are just some of the notions which Nick Watt managed to fall for, oops sorry, which the top-notch TSD managed to communicate in a highly strategic manner.
* Claiming the heckling by a young apprentice from Deptford led Cameron to think up a different kind of event for the forthcoming campaign.
* Thereby showing that Cameron is someone who can turn adversity to advantage (an important leadership attribute, you might subliminally be asked to think).
* Relating this ‘turning point’ to John Major’s soap box, one of the few things anyone remembers about our last PM but two.
That is all just for starters. TSD’s best work is yet to come. For he managed to persuade Mr Watt to take seriously that this carefull briefed set of points was all about Cameron playing to what Tory strategists see as his key strength – ‘authenticity.’
I know, I know … is that not just brilliant? Someone from Central Office gets on the phone to a left-leaning paper and says that Cameron is all about authenticity.
You can only say that kind of thing convincingly if you really believe it, so I can only imagine TSD has seen none of the polling which suggests that Cameron’s main problem with the public is that people do not really know what or who he is and that in the absence of that clarity, they worry he is posing as something – an agent of change – that he is not.
Of course TSD is right that authenticity is key. That is their problem. But TSD is undeterred, and Watt untroubled, by any of that.
He goes on with a few more themes worthy of their own little starry points in this eulogy to the work of the great TSD.
* Cameron’s authenticity works because the Tories are committed to devolution (come again) which ‘lends itself to spontaneous debate with voters.’
* GB apparently can’t do these kind of meetings, says TSD, duly reported by NW.
* But here comes the piece de resistance, the spin of all spins, the work of a genius … ‘Cameron’s easy connection with voters only works thanks to the second reason why he can lay claim to authenticity. They claim that on the economy, the most important issue of the election, Cameron has a record to defend and even laud.’
I am now on my feet in spontaneous lauding of a briefing of such nerve that I want to find the man who did it and offer him to name his price to defect. One of my finest moments was when the former Chief of Defence Staff Charles Guthrie (before he started taking potshots at GB) called me ‘the SAS of spin.’ But TSD is a one man commando unit all of his own.
To do such a briefing, and get away with it, without anyone pointing out that Cameron and George Osborne opposed all the measures that stopped a crisis from becoming a calamity, is Order of Thatcher time for TSD. Northern Rock anyone?
If it had been me, so-called King of Spin blah, I’d have quit while I was ahead, but TSD goes on.
‘We have had an unbelievable strategic success in winning the argument on debt.’ Oh my!
Then this … ‘The Tories are very careful to say they are not turning negative.’ How do we know? Because ‘attacks will be made with a light touch!’ Brilliant. NW then gives an example of DC’s light touch. Again, get the TSD a bonus.
So all in all, says NW, ‘Cameron’s ease in front of audiences suggests he has found his stride after the party’s recent wobble..’ and the sentence is right by the picture – found his stride, get it? Magical.
Then TSD does a bit of dumping on George Osborne, their one ‘key weakness.’ I’m beginning to feel a bit sorry for George. The public don’t like him. The City don’t like him. And TSD doesn’t like him; or at least he wants to make sure if the Budget goes well for Labour and badly for the Tories it is George not Dave who gets the blame.
Finally, a superb flourish. If the media say the manifesto is boring, we’ll be happy, says TSD.
I don’t know who he is. But I love his nerve. Almost as much as he must love Nick Watt when he reads his handiwork today.