Books have been written about how Alastair Campbell, as Tony Blair’s Head of Communications, tabloidised the entire culture of government. At the heart of the sweeping-away of old restraints and conventions was a feral instinct. When in trouble, don’t admit error; don’t accept responsibility: instead, blame someone else.
If Theresa May’s broadcast this evening proved anything, it is that Campbell’s legacy of spin is alive and twitching. Downing Street will have studied the polling. As James Frayne has suggested on this site, its overall findings are ambiguous, but there is clearly frustration with the state of Brexit – and recognition among both Leave and Remain voters that it is not being delivered on time.
The Prime Minister thus sought to “frame the debate”, in the jargon of the trade. So you, unhappy voter, are baffled, even angry? Well, don’t blame me. Blame those MPs! Blame the politicians! One might almost not have known from that she is herself an MP and the most senior politician in the land.
“I am on your side,” she declared, just in case viewers were too obtuse to get her point. But May herself is playing as much of a game as any other of her 649 colleagues. It is same-old-same-old: her chicken game. Vote for my deal or there will be No Brexit. Vote for my deal or there will be No Deal (depending on the need of the moment). Her aim is to mobilise voters against the Commons.
Perhaps she will succeed. Maybe her broadcast wowed the public – though we doubt it. Either way, there is one group of people among whom her gambit will have gone down with like a lorryroad of lukewarm vomit: her own colleagues. It is a measure of the Prime Minister’s desperation that she no longer seems to care. Who was it who used to say that “politics is not a game”?