Hain misses the point

LABOUR'S obsession with spin has tarnished this Government's reputation and image. Thus it was interesting to read Peter Hain's remarks this week that journalists should share the blame for public cynicism with politics.

LABOUR'S obsession with spin has tarnished this Government's reputation and image. Thus it was interesting to read Peter Hain's remarks this week that journalists should share the blame for public cynicism with politics.

The gaff-prone Mr Hain, who is increasingly being seen as a future Prime Minister, firmly believes that the Westminster bubble inhabited by MPs and political hacks has to be burst.

"Politicians, news broadcasters and journalists now form a 'political class' which is in a frenzied world of its own, completely divorced from the people, and which is turning off viewers, listeners and readers from politics by the million," claims Mr Hain, who is Leader of the House of Commons and in charge of Welsh affairs at Westminster.

"The way the debate in the Westminster bubble is conducted is insulting to a public that wants intelligent debate, not journalistic spin or government on-message boredom.

"Politicians need to be straight with the public about the issues that concern them. But the media needs to be straight in the way they report them. The public, I believe, wants to be engaged in a sensible debate about current issues – but it is badly served by the Westminster bubble.

"Most voters – and readers, viewers and listeners – want to read or hear about how our policies are likely to affect their lives, not about the self-obsessed little world of the political class.

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"By all means give Government a hard time when we deserve it," says Mr Hain. But politicians and journalists needed to get a better balance between the reporting of politics in terms of the outcomes that affect the public and what goes on inside "our own little bubble."

Mr Hain admits the Government could do more to cut out the spin and cut down on the packaging. Equally, the Press could do more to report substance and content.

"Instead of being spectators, the media has become key players in politics. Instead of following the agenda, the media is increasingly setting it. Instead of reporting, some journalists are increasingly spinning.

"Spin doctors may be accused of `sexing up' the news but the real culprits are often journalists themselves. Highly selective quotes, partial interpretation, exaggeration, embellishment and embroidery are the stock in trade of all too many journalists today.

"I would not claim that politicians are as pure as the driven snow. We make our fair share of mistakes and of course we want our activities and policies to be seen positively. But at least we are kept in check by the forces of democratic accountability. For journalists there is no electorate, there are no voters, there are no democratic checks and balances."

Well that's all very interesting Mr Hain, but let's get one thing straight. To ensure MPs and the public supported the war, it was the Government and its media machine – not journalists – that spun the line that Saddam Hussein could invoke mayhem against Britain at 45 minutes notice. No proof has yet been found of this capability. And according to a CNN/Time Magazine poll on Monday, more than four out of 10 adults in the UK believe that Tony Blair intentionally misled the public about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

LORD Phillips of Sudbury caused fellow peers to drop their ear trumpets as the House of Lords wound down for the summer recess when he used a four letter expletive in a debate on anti social behaviour.

The Liberal Democrat peer recounted how he happened to be walking out of Charing Cross underground station the previous day when he noticed a young adult "urinating quite openly" against the gates leading into the park.

"I made the remark `That's going to leave a nasty smell' and he said `fuck off.'"

Lord Phillips continued. "I am sorry to use the word in this House but it happens to be the commonest single word in the vocabulary of that age group.

"I believe he said it out of shock that anyone should even take note of the act and secondly out of a kind of indignation that anyone should interfere with what he undoubtedly considered to be a perfectly reasonable and proper act."

Lord Phillips said one problem with the Anti-Social Behaviour Bill was that it would add to the feeling of resentment that young people were being continually targeted.

"`Why pick on me' is what people ask, if the conduct for which they are being prosecuted is commonplace and if it has been ignored for weeks or months in the locality in which they live. The sense of victimisation when they are picked up and prosecuted will be easily inflamed and beget not contrition but its reverse."

Incidentally, Lord Phillips dismissed talk of the high jinx of the youth wing of the Lib Dems. "One peer said to me that the Liberal Democrats comprise only 10% of the House but represent 40% of the speakers in this debate and asked if it something to do with the antics of the Young Liberals.

"I think not. It is a genuine concern on those on these Benches to try to grapple with these most intractable problems."

A WEEK in Politics returns after the summer recess. By then, Lord Hutton's inquiry into the death of Government scientist Dr David Kelly will be well under way.