Monday, 6 February 2012

Spin or Whoppers?

Over the last decade, the media have become obsessed with ‘spin’. It’s rare to pick up a newspaper without some reference to it. We have satirical programmes about it. But, I’m not sure there is any more of it today than when Bernard Ingham span for Margaret Thatcher, although it’s probably more professionally done nowadays.

We shouldn’t be surprised by ‘spin’, for it is simply ‘putting the best gloss on your story’. Surely nobody expects that anyone, whose reputation is in the public arena, would deliberately go out to ‘put the worst gloss’ on what they want to say?

But there is a big difference between ‘spin’ and ‘telling whoppers’. I only wish our media became more obsessed with the latter than the former. In that way, they would do a public service by properly holding public representatives to account.

My Barnsley colleague, Michael Dugher, has just published a long list of  ‘Whoppers’ that David Cameron has told at Prime Ministers’ Questions over the last 12 months. Of course, we all occasionally make mistakes. Last week, my friend David Blunkett got something wrong in an interview on Radio 4; but, discovering his mistake, he was back on the radio within 30 minutes to apologise and to correct his error. But, to the best of my knowledge, David Cameron hasn’t once set about correcting one of his ‘whoppers’. He does us all a dis-service.

And these things are not unimportant, because our Prime Ministers’s statements are publicised throughout the world and, if left uncorrected, give a clearly wrong impression of what is happening. Judge for yourself, with these examples of what Mr Cameron said at PMQs on January 25th and what the facts actually are:

David Cameron: “Hospital waiting times are down
Fact: The number of patients not being treated within 18 weeks has soared by 43% since Mr Cameron became PM

David Cameron: “Disabled children will not have their benefits cut.”
Fact: Department for Work and Pensions’ assessment on the new universal credit showing that the rate paid to disabled children will fall from £53.84 to £26.75 a week.

David Cameron: “There are more people in work today than there were at the time of the last election”
Fact: The Office for National Statistics says there are now 26,000 fewer people in work than at the last election.

I’d prefer more spin and fewer whoppers.