30 August 2006

Spin: why appearance is all that matters

A leader in today's Daily Telegraph points out that the cost to the taxpayer of the Government's own publicity operation has trebled since 1997, reaching £322 million last year. The editor talks about the "obsession with appearance over reality" and complains that the "insidious culture of press manipulation has infiltrated every institution in the public sector". He says it will take "a dedicated effort by any future government to avoid playing the same game."

But in a mediocoracy (i.e. a pseudo-egalitarian society such as ours), in which the elite regard playing to the gallery as the morally correct strategy, the game may be irresistible for any party in government, whatever its label. Appearance is considered more important than reality, because it is more democratic. Reality requires intellect to appreciate, and intellect is not equally distributed.

The recent PR posturings of Mr David Cameron suggest that, whatever his real underlying philosophies and policy stances may be, he and his colleagues in the Tory party would play a very similar game if elected.

Ask yourself what would happen to a politician who behaved differently, i.e. as if reality mattered more than ideology or appearance. Would they be applauded for their moral fibre and willingness to go against the stream? Or would they be derided for being out of touch, elitist, old-fashioned or uncaring?

Yes, politics bears some responsibility for a culture of mediocracy. But the rest of the liberal elite – the media, the arts, academia, who adopt a similar philosophy of pseudo-egalitarianism and appearance-over-reality – are equally to blame.

Analysing the underlying reality of something requires thinking, which is nowadays considered bourgeois and elitist. Dumbed down appearance – from Mr Blair being blokey on TV, to facile statistics claiming that waiting times have gone down in the NHS (a development achieved by redefining "waiting time") – can be appreciated by everyone, and is therefore more in line with egalitarianism and ‘fairness’.