Friday 13 December 2019

Wrong-headed ambition along with animal cunning

The very existence of Wapping spin-monkeys is a massive declaration of executive failure, writes Declan Lynch

During evidence to the Commons committee, it emerged that the Metropolitan Police had 45 press officers. Later the comedian Jonnie Marbles, the sort of fellow who himself symbolises much that is wrong with the world, was able to attack Rupert Murdoch with a plate of shaving foam. And what is the connection?

Well, the police force which sees the need for 45 press officers (by some estimates there were 69, but we'll go with 45), is effectively making a statement which goes something like this: "Nabbing villains is all very well. And putting bobbies on the beat would be nice. But these days our energies are mostly directed towards the area of bullshit. You could say that bullshit is now our business. It is what we do."

And sure enough, this organisation which had 45 press officers working at full capacity, doing whatever it is they do, was unable to stop an attack by some joker with a proverbial custard pie.

Yes there is a connection there, to be sure. And it all emerged during a line of questioning which sought to establish why 45 press officers were apparently not enough, leading to the appointment of a former News of the World executive known affectionately as "Wolfman", to advise senior officers on media matters, on a retainer of £1,000 a day.

Moreover, it is accepted that the excellent

"Wolfman" also provided his much sought-after "advice" to former NOTW

editor Andy Coulson, who was then working on the election campaign of one David Cameron. And in that same moral universe William Hague was getting £200,000 a year for his column in the NotW.

I think that's what they mean when they talk about a "nexus".

So when we were writing last week about the spin-monkeys who are all over Wapping with their spurious "professionalism" and their big-swinging executive ambitions, we were identifying a broader malaise. They are everywhere, these spin-monkeys, these "public affairs spokesmen", these "directors of corporate affairs", these "assistant heads of communications", these "media consultants", these incorrigible purveyors of what can only be described as bullshit.

They are evidently all over the police too, and of course they have been all over politics for a long time now. Sometimes, in fact, as we are learning from the News International story, they are all over the press, the police, and politics, at the same time.

We have here an army of the night, not marching but slithering through the great estates, gorging themselves on all that free money, and leaving behind them a trail of slime.

They are, of course, providing a service of sorts to their friends and allies in the executive classes, but then their very existence is a massive declaration of executive failure. After all, what leader of any stature would be looking for "advice" from one of these characters? What intelligent or even vaguely competent executive, who is already ridiculously overpaid, would need some media consultant to tell him how to deal in a "professional" manner with the hacking of Millie Dowler's phone?

In almost every area of public life, from the perfumed halls of the European Central Bank to the dark streets of Westminster, and even to the places where poor Paddy lives, our world is being destroyed by the inability of leaders virtually to put on their trousers in the morning without expert advice which will absolve them of responsibility if it all goes wrong.

And what sort of people are dispensing this professional help? Well, some of them would be journalists who have gone over to the other side, but, almost by definition, they can't have been much good at the journalism in the first place.

After all, if they were that good, there would surely be an almost irresistible demand for them to keep doing it. They might even have readers who would be disappointed by their leaving to "head up" the "ongoing communications strategy" at the department.

So these people tend to be hacks who compensate for their lack of talent with an over-supply of wrong-headed ambition and animal cunning.

When they dream, they dream not of original insights and great last lines, but of standing at the back of a press conference looking vaguely menacing and important, like Alastair Campbell. And of course, like anyone in the executive class to which they aspire, they too dream of being ridiculously overpaid.

Certainly their bullshit is everywhere in the News International story, but not, oddly enough, in the person of Rupert Murdoch himself. With his short answers, even the occasional straight "No", it took a while for the members of the committee to adjust to this strange language, so accustomed are they to the chattering of the spin-monkeys.

And then it was over to Mr Jonnie Marbles to make his contribution, as the bobbies arrived on the scene... too late.

They had failed again, failed utterly. But to take the "positives" out of this, it is true that they could be seen live on Sky News, wiping the foam off the face of Jonnie Marbles in a highly professional manner.

Sunday Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Don't Miss