Philip Whiteley's Blog

August 16, 2011

Spin city and the riots

Filed under: Uncategorized — felipewh @ 12:48 pm

In 1998, I had a nice little exclusive story as head of the news desk on Personnel Today, concerning an emerging problem with the Labour Government’s New Deal programme. This initiative was the flagship policy of the new Blair administration. Funded by a windfall tax on the utilities, its aim was to reduce youth unemployment by providing training and work placements with employers. Our story was that a major retailer had pulled out of the scheme, citing problems with behaviour, attitude and lack of work ethic among many of the new recruits. Some of the youngsters did not see that they had to turn up on time in order to be paid, or perform the duties asked of them. Others dropped out after a few days; some had behavioural problems such as heavy drug use.

On a professional or ‘trade’ publication, it’s nice to have a scoop on a story with wider significance, as you can often get yourself a mention in the national papers or in the Commons. We duly put out a press release and expected at least a couple of mentions by education and political correspondents. What happened was perhaps the most shocking and depressing sequence of events I’ve encountered in my career. The head of the press office at the Education & Employment Department got hold of the issue before any widespread coverage and subjected me to a series of bullying phone calls: our story was wrong, he shouted, because the retailer in question was still a signatory so it had not ‘pulled out’. Without doubt the same loathsome individual called all the national newspaper correspondents also, who meekly complied with his aggressive demands.

The story was efficiently spiked. A social phenomenon of significant numbers of young people with no aptitude for employment, and an indifferent or hostile attitude to authority, was surely a matter that required urgent and far-reaching discussion, but the spin doctors made sure that this was not going to happen. As a point of detail: this was a civil service press officer, who should have been serving the public, not the Labour Party.

Just suppose if, 13 years ago, the papers had gone to town on our story and that, instead of suppressing discussion, Labour ministers and their supporters had said to themselves: hold on a minute, this problem isn’t just about employment; it’s about employability. It’s not just about opportunity, it’s also about attitude. It’s not just about economics, it’s about parenting, schooling and the community. A national conversation could at the very least have begun. Instead, the problem festered and appears to have grown. As we can see from recent events, our little story on Personnel Today was not so little, after all.

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2 Comments »

  1. Philip is absolutely accurate in his comments and it reminded me of a TV sketch starring Lenny Henry, a man not noted for his failure to understand the need for support for the underdog.
    In the sketch, a lady goes into labour while out shopping. The shop owner calls for a doctor or nurse to assist with the birth and a Doctor steps forward to help. Lenny Henry plays a member of the public who also volunteers his assistance and attempts to work beside the Doctor.
    He is told in no uncertain terms that his assistance is neither wanted nor of any help to the lady in labour.
    “Is it because I am black?” is his response to being turned away.
    This epitomises the “Why Not Me” attitude which has been allowed to become a standard. The joke, or perhaps the moral, is that he is turned away not because he is black but because he is ineffectual, something which many should be made aware of, but who are shielded from the fact.

    Comment by Matt Boyle — August 16, 2011 @ 2:26 pm | Reply

  2. […] This has resulted in ‘institutional sectarianism’ – a tendency only to be outraged by governance failures only if they occur in the opponents’ sector. In the UK, Conservatives will denounce public sector inefficiencies and unaffordable public spending, but overlook the damage caused by investment banks’ reckless speculation (ironically, state-subsidized – but that’s another story). Labour will lay into ‘big business’, but neglect failures in health care on its watch, and cover up weaknesses in its welfare-to-work scheme with misleading spin. […]

    Pingback by Selective outrage in a partisan world | Radical Shift — October 4, 2013 @ 2:04 pm | Reply


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