I’ve been a bit slow to get round to reading The Spin Doctor’s Diary, Lance Price’s [link to Amazon here] account of his 3 years working in Number 10 and Millbank between 1998 and 2001 – my apologies to readers of the blog that have digested Price’s account months ago! The diaries do not attempt to be a deep analysis – they were written as the author saw events unfolding, but some patterns do emerge from the book that are fascinating.
Above all, the complete sense of chaos seems to pervade throughout. Here is a government that was thought to have a super-professional communications approach in its early years and yet seems incapable of getting simple decisions to be taken. Price builds up a picture of a Tony Blair very capable of inspiring people and with a sense of humour, yet very scared of how his decisions will be perceived. Brown on the other hand comes across as sharp, but unlikeable and quite troublesome – especially his attitude to the press and his efforts to not be supportive of colleagues. Alistair Campbell emerges as a tough and somewhat paranoid character, Peter Mandelson as a relentless narcissist, and Mo Mowlam as being out of her depth.
The complete inability of the government to deal with the matter of the EU and the Euro pervades throughout the book, as does the impression that very few government ministers understand and are capable of communicating a coherent vision of what the government is supposed to be doing. A piece about a cabinet meeting when all present looked sheepish that Tony Benn (!) was the only person Labour could send on Question Time, and a fake phone call from Bertie Ahern to cut short a meeting with Shaun Woodward MP are particular highlights.
The diaries are well written, amusing in places, depressing in far more, and I emerged with an enormously positive impression of Lance Price and his astute observations. Government needs sharp communicators who can show a degree of compassion. Sadly the picture that Price paints shows that scant few of those are in Government.