I spent most of my working life in the advertising business, and almost a quarter of that time in total was spent working with government departments policed by the Central Office of Information (COI). As part of a programme of downsizing government, the COI was abolished many years ago. Thus there is now no policing going on at all. Dan Hannan and other deregulation fanatics, take note.
The policing played an extremely important role on two levels: first, it saved taxpayers millions of Pounds by ring-fencing all ‘Government’ adspend, thus protecting it from political point-scoring; and second – for me, more important – it ensured that State power could not be wielded in the media to Party advantage through advertising.
The results are there for all to see today. The definition of ‘advertising’ has changed and broadened over that time, and this has made it easier for most Ministers in the current Administration to flagrantly use taxpayer funds – via their budgets being paid to hidden persuaders, or by using Civil Servant time that should not be used for purely political purposes. In doing so they variously bend, inflate, and ignore empirical data in such a way as to make it impossible to describe this as “information”: it is political persuasion, pure and simple.
I call this persuasion ‘hidden’ because, unlike the audited media spends of my Day in the Sun, its intent is dressed in a flimsy veil called ‘facts’…but beneath that veil is the same sweaty groin of political bollocks. In this sense, there is not a rice-paper of difference between what’s been going on for nearly thirty years now, and what Josef Goebbels did immediately on coming to power in 1934: take over and purge the Ministry of Information for the sole use of Nazi propaganda.
The process began in earnest during the early years of the third Thatcher administration, and was then given a hefty dollop of amphetamines by the constitutional vandals of New Labour. By 2010 it was already ‘everything is fair game’ when it came to misuse of public money. The achievement of the Coalition has been to broaden the definition further still to mean ‘anything’. Oddly enough, the latter can mean more than the former.
The change was part of a more general process of replacing appointed Government (ie, politically unbiased) officers with Party consultants. This allowed Tony Blair to run a criminal foreign policy without involving the FCO at all – and has since meant that almost everyone working in the DWP today is in the business – unwittingly or otherwise – of disseminating misleading and politically weighted versions of ‘information’.
The reason I’m focusing on media persuasion in this post is that first, I know a lot about it, and second, as Hitler and Stalin realised earlier than most, it is the key to ensuring a permanent passive majority in favour of one’s policy set. When persuasion was first described in the context of advertising by Vance Packard in 1957 as ‘hidden’, he was in fact perpetuating a left-of-centre myth with no basis whatsoever. In those days, only a moron could’ve failed to notice that an advertiser either in the UK or US had bought a page, TV spot, radio sponsorship or poster. The real hidden persuaders were, first and foremost, the small clutch of newspaper barons who used ‘opinion columns’ to further a political agenda; and second, the PR boys who manipulated and lunched lazy hacks into writing half-baked columns about missile gaps and Egyptian dictators.
Today, the control of media information is almost completely hidden for the average observer most of the time, the media are in even fewer – and more bloody – hands….and those media gargoyles push their cockeyed view of the world on every page and in every article. So when you add this to the terrifying consumer data set marketers have now – and the infinitely more pernicious forms of PR available – the position is dangerous for democracy in that the electorate is no longer fully or properly informed. The coup de grace by political Executives everywhere is the cancerous relationship they’ve fashioned between the EC, the NSA, Britain’s GCHQ, and internet-based media formats. Factoring in this last development means democracy is rendered dysfunctional – and liberty is in the Emergency Room.
As that paragraph may come under the heading of ‘sweeping’, let me furnish some glaring examples.
I have blogged briefly elsewhere at The Slog on the misuse of Cabinet Office press releases. For the best part of three years, these have become increasingly mendacious to the point where they are no longer irksome, they’re unconstitutional….or rather, they would be if we had a fully written British Constitution. That is to say, the CO has been hijacked for purely political spin.
Another thing all bloggers need to heighten awareness of is the perversion of Wikipedia by grisly organisations such as that run by the Thatcherite pillock and largely renosed Lord Bell. Pottinger Bell is infamous for its relentless pursuit of ‘dodgy’ clients, and altering their Wikipedia entries in classic Winston Smith style. As recently as June 2014, Bell Pottinger refused to join a group of major PR agencies publicly pledging to “abide by Wikipedia’s rules and end the practice of amending their clients’ Wikipedia pages”.
While it does not list Government agencies or Departments among its clients, BellEnd’s own executives were recorded by The Independent outlining their real links to the Tory Party and its Coalition government in December 2011. The reality seems to be that Bell Pottinger has access to and relationships with numerous senior British politicians, including Prime Minister David Cameron, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne – and not surprisingly, our old friend Health Minister Ezak Hunt
One of Hunt’s favourite tricks is to use the ‘Department for Health’ brand on Twitter as if it might still be a reliable source of information about the real state of the NHS. Here are three glaring examples from yesterday:
1. What does ‘trained in’ dementia treatment mean? How long were the courses?
2. ‘Dementia research doubled’. Meaningless: what was doubled? The hours, the spend…what?
3. The source for dementia stats is Health Education England. Government websites go to great pains to position HEE as part of the Department of Health. It isn’t: it’s a Quango.
4. What’s more, this Quango which was hailed as “the powerhouse of the NHS” was in June 2014 targeted by the Hunt/Osborne axis as the subject of ‘drastic’ reorganisation to slash its running costs by 20%.
5. Cancer tests have gone from 120K per month to 160K per month. That’s a creditable increase of 33%. But it isn’t the 51% claimed by Hunt.
6. The source for even this figure is a Tory document dated December 2014.
7. 700K more people treated for cancer sounds impressive, but what was the cure rate? And where is the source?
8. As for the NHS rating as ‘No 1 State health provider in the world’, the data is based on 2011 reports which themselves referred to 2010 data periods…at which point, the Tories were barely in office. Thus Hunt’s claim “under this government” is a complete lie.
9. In terms of the outcome being ‘Healthier Lives’ Britain ranks (under this same report) not 1st but 10th: it is behind Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway and Switzerland..but just slightly ahead of the US….of whose Healthcare insurance model Hunt is – like his ‘let’s kill the NHS’ co-author in 2008 Dan Hannan – an unalloyed admirer.
10. Finally, also under this report, Britain’s healthcare spend per head came 2nd last at $3045.
This isn’t an article about advertising, it’s another plea for Britain’s professional middle class to wake TF up and realise that, once civilised principles of fair play, may the best man win, level playing fields, the inviolate nature of referees and seeking the Common Good have left the building, it’s time to go home and think very hard indeed about whether any of us is any longer entitled to shrug and say, “Yeh wull – wha’ever”.
OK, so maybe that riff was over-stuffed with sport metaphors. But actually, what looking across the Channel to my homeland feels like more and more is watching Chelsea playing Wycombe Wanderers downhill in both halves….with a bent referee, and two Shed fans for linesmen: there is only ever going to be one result unless the Wycombe supporters stage a murderous pitch invasion.
For over twenty years now I’ve been warning folks that Yes, It Could Happen Here. Usually, I’ve been rewarded with the smug response that “parallels with the Nazis are risible”. Well, it is happening here. We need to do something before all that’s left is observers from beyond Britain saying, “Yes, it even happened there”.