An introduction
Pages 20

At the end of 1998, the British ‘New Labour’ Government had something of a crisis: two Cabinet ministers resigned in the face of accusations of financial impropriety. The worst blow was the loss of Peter Mandelson, the Minister for Trade and Industry, one of the chief architects of New Labour and of its electoral victory, and one of the closest allies of the Prime Minister, Tony Blair. Mandelson’s departure led to intense speculation over a shift in direction on the part of the Government; in one formulation at the time: a move towards rather less of the ‘new’ and more of the ‘Labour’. The Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott was widely interpreted as advocating such a shift. This was the interpretation which was for instance put on an interview he gave to the Independent,1 in which he said ‘we need to get away from rhetoric and back on to the substance of government’. That statement apparently constituted the basis for the Independent’s headline: ‘Prescott bins the spin for real policies’. ‘The spin’ is an allusion to New Labour’s ‘spin-doctors’, the people responsible for the media presentation of the Government and for putting a media ‘spin’ (or angle) on its policies and activities. Media communications are more carefully handled and more centrally controlled by the New Labour Government than any previous British government, and the Government has been accused by its critics of governing by media spin. Mandelson himself had overall responsibility for media communications as the Minister without Portfolio before he was shifted to the Department of Trade and Industry. He was closely associated with New Labour’s reputation for being preoccupied with spin, and credited with being the spindoctor par excellence.