On the day that the unpleasant closeness between Tony Blair and News International is making headlines again, it’s interesting to look at how different life is for Cameron’s Conservatives. In part, the electoral success of Labour under Blair was because they knew they had to influence the news agenda and had to do this doggedly and by any means necessary, never taking their eye off the bulletins and the headlines, reaching out to the media in a way that was meticulously planned and, ultimately, beyond the boundaries of what could be considered reasonable or decent.
Fast forward to 2014 and we are in very different times. The scurrilous elements in the media are still present, albeit with wings ever-so-slightly clipped by the Leveson Inquiry. But the demand for New Labour style news management has dwindled. Of course, even at the best of times the business of Government is never easy – it’s either raining or pouring – but what makes life more straightforward for the Conservatives, in stark contrast to their predecessors, is the almost entirely benign media environment in which they operate.
Where Labour had to battle for every story, the Conservatives simply don’t feel the need to chase headlines or generate stories with quite the same urgency. Nor do they need to hot-foot it from studio to studio manically re-butting inaccuracies or desperately flogging the latest policy wheeze.
Look no further than this month’s Government press releases (I know, I know, but it’s half term, and I have a little time on my hands). You’d be hard pushed to deliberately generate a list of such exceptionally dull announcements. Foreign Office Minister visits Tunisia. Transport Secretary meets bus industry. Much of it is the political equivalent of holding the front page for ‘Man gets stung by bee’. Aside from the daily flood updates, none of this suggests a Government much bothered by the news churn.
Few people will look back with fondness on the days of Alistair Campbell, Charlie Whelan and the other New Labour spin doctors. And there’s something oddly refreshing about the factual drabness of this Government’s pronouncements. Today’s news that Tony Blair was close enough to Rebekah Brooks to be giving advice on how to handle phone-hacking allegations will do little to lead people to yearn for the good old days.
Like Kinnock in 1987 and 1992, this leaves Ed Miliband in a right old pickle: how do you get your message across when no-one’s listening?