The Fifth Beatle

Vox Pop – Spin Doctors in Politics

19 Mar 1964, London, England, UK --- Harold Wilson meets The Beatles at the Dorchester Hotel for the Variety Club of Great Britain Show Business Awards, where he presented the award for "Show Business Personality of 1963" to John Lennon. --- Image by © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS
19 Mar 1964, London, England, UK — Harold Wilson meets The Beatles at the Dorchester Hotel for the Variety Club of Great Britain Show Business Awards, where he presented the award for “Show Business Personality of 1963” to John Lennon. — Image by © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS

Hi all. I am currently writing my Masters dissertation at the University of York. It deals with a distinct British form of political ‘spin’.

“Spin” is a term most people are familiar with (via The Thick of It, and other cultural representations). However, are we agreed on what it actually comprises?

Would you be so kind as to jot down your opinion on what political spin is (British, American, Australian, anywhere), and also when you first encountered the term? You can do this in the comments below.

This would be really useful for me to get a feeling of how problematic (or not) the area is. Feel free to share this too, and many, many thanks for your help.


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8 thoughts on “Vox Pop – Spin Doctors in Politics

  1. I first became aware of spin doctoring during the Blair era.The public were becoming obsessed,to the point of invasive,with celebrities in all regions of life,media responsibility to sell papers,TV shows,magazines,toys,dolls even hairstyles etc..Blair’s famous number 10 parties subtly manipulated the public to believe that if their favourite celeb thought Blair good enough to party with then he must be unquestionably good.Worryingly it never seemed a problem that there was a large amount of money involved as well as lack of relevance to the public or country’s interest.Imo spin is subtle,often less so, manipulation of people by a person or organisation that feels their true cause,actions or belief are not enough to sway people to support and agree with them.It is worrying that far right wing groups are now using these tactics to bait followers and gain income,stirring hatred and fear purely for their own benefit by not only using spin on the smallest event or fact,enlarging and exaggerating it and often adding a few lies! These spin tactics are causing less unity and more unrest,fear,hatred and danger of radicalisation and innocents being victimised in our communities! Spin seems,from what I have observed,to always end up biting the believers back when they realise too late that the spin has been hiding things lacking in the basic abilities or truths of the person or group using the spin.Only my opinions from observing,I tend to be very opinionated.

  2. I think the first time I heard spin mentioned was during the closing years of the tory govenment preceding the 1997 win by tony Blair. “Spin” seemed intrinsically linked to “Sleaze”. If a particular MP was caught or suspected of sleaze, spin was employed to either obfuscate the facts or at least lessen the perception of how bad the transgression was. Immediately following Tony Blair’s win Spin seemed to disappear for a while but then gradually spin returned as Labour MPs needed their own transgressions or unpopular decisions to be softened in the public perception. Spin to me is the use of any means to alter public perception, whether that be making a bad thing seem good or vice versa. The current version of spin seems to fall into two camps, “subterfuge” where the reality of a situation is blurred and confused either by manipulation of statistics or by amending and appending the narrative so as to make it hard for the public to judge the true facts of the matter or “repetition” where a statement is repeated at every opportunity through every form of media until it becomes accepted truth whether or not the statement is actually true.

  3. The News is the original path of the ball, the Reaction is the bounce and Spin is how you try to affect the bounce. Like others I became aware of the term in the mid-90s but I suspect some version of the practice is as old as politics

  4. I can’t remember where I first heard about ‘spin’, but I strongly suspect it was in some british tv comedy show or satire show, maybe one character or another explaining how the media and politics works (probably Yes Minister, thinking about it). I did seem to learn most useful things about the world from comedy when I was a kid.

    As to what it means, I suppose my internal definition is that it means emphasising or de-emphasising one or another aspect of a story or event, to alter its meaning without actually altering or disputing the facts, with a deliberate aim of misleading people. Lying without technically lying.

  5. Spin is telling people the truth in a way which is sufficiently selective to create the desired impact/ outcome. No idea when I first heard the term but the practice has been commonplace for years, beginning with the church.
    It works because the general public are sheep. They don’t want to have to question what their ‘leaders’ are doing. They want to hand over the reigns and then moan when it goes wrong. They are willingly plausible so long as the facts they hear fit their prejudices or desires. If they don’t, they change newspapers. So the papers tell them what they want to hear to boost sales. It’s not the fault of ‘the media’ or ‘the politicians’ . It’s the lazy minded people who sit around ignoring the lies they are fed.

    Spin works because the majority of people are ignorant and lazy bigots. You get the media and the politicians you deserve.

  6. For me, spin is the act of representing a fact/story/research finding (etc.) which could be interpreted in at least one other way, in a fashion most favourable to achieving one’s own ends.

    I first remember hearing it during the Blair years, in reference to UK politicians and their parties. Most commonly on the news, question time and satirical shows like have I got news for you. Also, comical Ali in the Iraq war.

    However, my age is likely to have played a role in this – I was 11 when Blair came to power.

  7. I think it must have been during the Blair era that I first heard about spin, Alistair Campbell’s influence seemed to bring the issue to the fore. It seemed to become more and more common a term to hear with the Iraq War and the sexed up dossier, and now it seems to be fairly pretty common place.

    As for their roll, it seems to be media and perception management to my eyes. Controlling not just how stories are announced, but how the narrative around them is formed by the public and press.

    They also seem to generally be construed at liars, which seems a little unfair. They may be shaping stories and issues, but I don’t think they often outright lie (or have others lie for them) beyond lies of omission. They just try and contextualise things in a way that suits their needs.

Please leave a comment. Many thanks.