Why have public bodies become such spinners?

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My children are both attending Steyning Grammar School – and my youngest son was a participant in their notorious Christmas meal (which reached page 3 of the Guardian), which initially the school defended and later decided to apologise for instead.

He hadn’t noticed there was anything wrong with it..!

What was the most embarrassing element of the Christmas affair for the school authorities, now managed by the Bohunt academy trust? Was it the very basic catering – or was it actually the brutal volte face?

Why do public authorities find the whole business of bad publicity so dreadful that they start with bald denials?

Is spin a legitimate part of the political process? If it is, then the word means more than putting the best possible angle on the brute facts.

The word came into my consciousness as a description of what Peter Mandelson was doing to the New Labour message – but somehow the basic denial technique is most reminiscent of the Boris Johnson school of government.

The trouble is that so many public resources are now devoted to simple denial. So when I heard what Bohunt had said about school Christmas, I was reminded of what the NHS blogger Roy Lilley has been saying about communications in the NHS – which saw the Department of Health using covid powers to take over messaging to the public including an iron control over what the NHS said. 

“The over interpretation of that role, by NHS England, has lead to the avalanche of grief and angst that has overloaded my inbox,” Roy wrote last summer. “The stories of pressure, abuse, and outright bullying are still arriving.”

He quoted one NHS boss:

“As a chief executive, there’s always some degree of watchful eye on what we may say in the media, but nothing like this. It sounds almost like state censorship at a time when local communities really needed to know what was happening in their local NHS…”

You might ask why they would  be paying the most capable communicators in the NHS such huge sums if everything they say needs to be checked so mercilessly?

Bullies pick on capable people,” wrote Lilley.

“They’ll try and pick off the influencers because they see them as a threat. Bullies pick on people who are better than them, know more, have more experience and expertise because bullies are generally out of their depth. They bully because they can’t, or don’t have the skills, to achieve their goals by leadership, management skills, persuasion, communication, experience or talent. So, they can end up white collar thugs.”

I am not of course suggesting that my local teachers or their managers have reached this stage of centralised control. I am suggesting that political ‘spin’ urgently needs to be reined in.

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Radix is the radical centre think tank. We welcome all contributions which promote system change, challenge established notions and re-imagine our societies. The views expressed here are those of the individual contributor and not necessarily shared by Radix.

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