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PHA Media’s chairman Phil Hall says the government needs to show it is really doing something, instead of spouting a lot of hot air

When are the political parties going to wake up to the fact the public are tired of PR spin? What the ordinary voters want to see from PR is proof that politics works instead of it being what it seems – a private club for members of parliament.

So often during the government’s reign, I have heard spin doctors say it is important to set the agenda for the week, by which they mean getting their latest initiatives on to the front pages of the Sunday papers so that they become the talking point in the media during Monday and Tuesday. Or let’s make sure we have the Sunday for Monday exclusive (the belief that because Sunday is a quiet day, any old political story will get a good show in the papers on a Monday.)

I happen to think they are wrong. The public has become immune to these stories because they are what they are – headline grabbers and little more. This strategy has little impact of the public consciousness and is forgotten within the old adage that today’s news is tomorrow fish and chip paper.

What they should be doing is showing that government works. Instead of just announcing they are putting more Bobbies on the beat, for example, they need to articulate the story with real examples of that policy cutting crime or making a difference. Or show the human side of it – the young Bobby, whose dad and grandfather are also on the beat – that sort of thing gets the public interested.

Instead of announcing the latest new drug breakthrough in the NHS, get stories out there that prove the government initiative of cutting waiting lists has worked and get independent validators like doctors, or policemen in the previous case, to tell the story for you so that it has more credibility.

Do the public feel, for example, that Gordon Brown has cleaned up politics as he vowed to following the MPs’ expenses scandal? Well if he has I certainly can’t remember. I recall there were rules changes, but can any of us recite what they were?

I suspect this is because the Prime Minister was advised to move on from the negativity that was attached to the expenses story. My view is he could have gained so much more for being seen to be the man who put things right. The second homes scandal could have been settled at a stroke, for example, if MPs were ordered to pay any profits from the sale of these homes, into the public purse.

Brown needed to do this himself and follow through on it with facts and figures about what impact this policy would have.

This may sound ridiculous, but we also need some arbiter of truth to be established. How infuriating is it when a politician stands up and talks about crime being out of control, while his opponent refers to facts and figures that claim the crime rate is falling? The public have no idea who is telling the truth.

It would mean so much more if the home secretary, or shadow cabinet minister, could appear on TV and say something like: “According to the independent office of statistical analysis this is the case.“ If a politician was caught lying they could then be properly named and shamed.

Or why not use the idea adopted in rugby and send lying politicians to the sin bin (in parliament it would mean suspending them for a fortnight)?

I guess the answer is the parliamentary chambers would be empty…Prime Minister’s Question Time would not be the same without a baying mob would it?

Phil Hall is Ex Editor of the News of the World and Chairman of PHA Media. Phil will be writing a regular column for PRmoment.com.

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