Tag Archives: the observer

Rawnsley: Cameron Uncovered

Some journalists court controversy wherever they go.

Some remain eloquent and cerebral.

Andrew Rawnsley manages to achieve both.

Tonight, the Observer’s Political Commentator and Associate Editor presented Dispatches: Cameron Uncovered, shining a light on the modern Conservative Party. It followed ground previously trodden in Rawnsley’s book The End of the Party, this time turning on David Cameron and chums.

Understandable parallels were drawn between Cameron’s media persona and Tony Blair’s ascent to power.

We now know Blair to be style over substance, favouring actions over detail and rhetoric over evidence. Cameron is cut from the same political cloth, enjoying the medium of television, never more at home than when wowing an audience.

A crucial difference is the historical and political context, and this is at the crux of why Britain has yet to warm to Cameron and his faceless neophytes. New Labour stormed Downing Street on the back of 18 years of Tory power. 18 years of broken unions, unsavoury MPs and uncertain leadership. Here was Blair, crusading for our rights, for a new Britain, a new dawn…well, we know what happened next.

The fact remains that the Labour government has limped, rather than sprinted to the finishing line of this year’s general election. But Cameron doesn’t have the benefit of public optimism that Blair had carrying him into the landslide 1997 election.

Britain is wearied by recession and by revelations like the expenses scandal. The public do not trust their elected representatives anymore. Pre-1997, Labour made much of their squeaky-clean MPs in contrast to the sleazy and clapped out Tory counterparts.

Today no such disctinction can be made. Cameron’s pretense of a party representing the right choice has been stripped down to a cheap veneer. With hindsight we wistfully remember how so many of us were credulous to Blair’s oratorical skill. For the Tories, this distrust is spreading before the election has even happened.

It is said that parties tend to return to traditional policies during times of economic hardship. Health, provisions and security are all prioritised. Plainly, this attitude also manifests itself in our political leaders.

Britain is sick of Labour. But where to turn? Not to the Tories, who seem to offer similar policy but with a leader so prepped in media training that no one believes a word. Not to the Liberal Democrats, who have missed the ship of capitalising on the two major parties’ failure to capture the public imagination.

No, in times like these, polls show that we’re closer than ever to picking Gordon and co.

The last 13 years haven’t been perfect, but best stick to the devil we know.

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Re:Brand

Change is in the air.

Barack Obama’s mantra may have gone stale, but it has now been adopted by the media world. The widespread economising and downsizing of newsrooms has even affected the world’s oldest Sunday newspaper, The Observer. Two weeks into its slimmed down relaunch, it has cooked up a storm with the extracts from Andrew Rawnsley’s new book, End of the Party.

It’s easy to look at the measures implemented at The Observer (voluntary redundancies, scrapping of music and sport magazines) and surmise that this is a newspaper sentenced to failure. However, look more closely, and what you’ll see is a newspaper that is down, but not yet out. John Mulholland and his editorial team have clearly realised that there is little place for breaking news in print. Consequently they have slimmed down the news section and expanded the analysis, features and comment to be found in The Observer.

Will Sturgeon, founder of The Media Blog agrees:

“They’ve boosted the prominence of opinion and comment. Relaunching with revelations from Andrew Rawnsley’s book signalled this intent most clearly. That is the only way the papers will mitigate the fact the news game is entirely lost to online”

Find your niche. That’s what writers are incessantly told. Now it seems newspapers will have to do the same. Those who value breaking news will always find it somewhere on the internet, something that paywalls cannot stop. But what newspapers can offer is good content in abundance. Well written commentaries and adventurous features are to be found primarily within newspapers, and not exclusively online.

Will Sturgeon:

“The Telegraph’s expenses story and the subsequent spike in its circulation shows us the value of quality content. Anything where speed is a pre-requisite will break first online. However, quality content will never go out of fashion”

A media prediction, if I dare be so bold: We’ll see organisations focusing solely on what they’re best at. For The Observer, this is investigation and opinion. For Sky News, this is, and always has been, breaking news. We’ll see the breakdown of newspapers as an universal authority, instead visiting a variety of outlets for what tickles our fancy.

So where to go now? The Guardian is one newspaper who’ve broached the subject of paywalls more than most. Alan Rusbridger and Emily Bell (Director of Digital Content) are resounding in their opposition of paywalls, believing them to be against the core principles of what the paper stands for.

Guardian.co.uk receives 37 million users a month. If half of those could be persuaded to pay a paltry monthly subscription fee…well, the finance department at Guardian News & Media would look a lot more chirpy. Frequently hailed as a design success, The Guardian now need to convert this brilliant layout into a viable commercial model. Being one of the first nationals online brings merits in the form of knowing what works and what doesn’t, but where they go from here is anyone’s guess.

The NYT iPad application

The second big publication to address the issue is the New York Times. It’s better positioned than most to tackle the issue of charging for content, having access to an army of commentators, reporters and analysts. The system that’s to be implemented would allow readers to access a certain number of articles free per month, and then request payment for more.

This crucially allows other websites and blogs to link to the New York Times without being blocked out by a paywall, something that interests Paul Bradshaw:

“This makes a link to the New York Times valuable in itself. If you run a blog, you’re more likely to link to the New York Times. Even if the paywall scheme doesn’t actually make them any money directly, it could drive valuable traffic to the website”

The message seems to be Adapt or Die, both on a personal and organisational level. A bleak future (as chorused by every other media blog ad nauseum) certainly, but it’s good to see a few well known publications taking their first tentative steps in addressing a new business model.

A week in politics

My my, what an engrossing run up to the election this is proving to be.

Andrew Rawnsley, erudite journalist, author and The Observer’s Chief Political Commentator is to publish his new book, The End of the Party on 1st March. As expected, the allegations painting Gordon Brown as a violent bully have made big news. Let’s track the timeline of events which culminated in this latest mishap for the Prime Minister:

31st January: Simon Walters, Mail on Sunday Political Editor, reports that Rawnsley’s book makes allegations that Brown physically attacked members of his staff.

Rawnsley’s publishers were sure that this was leaked to the Mail by No.10, in order to weaken the impact of the story. It’s apparent that Downing Street has been preparing itself for weeks in anticipation of the book’s release.

20th February: Brown appears on Channel 4 News, telling them “I have never hit anyone in my life”.

21st February: Brown gives an interview to the Independent on Sunday, talking about his own personality traits, and the importance of standing up for what he believes in.

This is interesting timing by Brown. Only the week before he’d conducted a Piers Morgan interview, which for all intents and purposes, was an attempt to present himself as a likeable and trustworthy man. The Observer had been advertising it’s new look format with the promise of “extracts from Andrew Rawnsley’s new book”. Furthermore, Rawnsley never made the allegation that Brown hit anybody. Clearly alarm bells the size of the budget deficit were ringing at No.10.

21st February: The Observer publishes the first extract of the book, with more to be serialised over the coming weeks. The Labour Party is described as being a hotch-potch of opinions and agendas over whether Brown should seek a mandate in the form of a snap election in 2007. Brown is described as grabbing his Deputy Chief of Staff, Gavin Kelly, by his suit lapels and shouting “they’re out to get me!”.

Also released was a brilliantly melodramatic animation by Taiwanese TV, which portrays the PM as a Jason Bourne-esque tough guy:

22nd February: Peter Mandelson defends Brown’s character, saying: “No one tolerates bullying in this government or in any part of this government. Period. Full stop. That’s it. If you think we’re going to spend our time chasing around newspapers that want a splash on their front pages, let me tell you: we’ve got better things to do with our lives.”

All very well, but if the government aren’t concerned, why the constant vehement denials and continued appraisals of Brown’s behaviour?

22nd February: Rawnsley appears on Newsnight to defend his book. Facing criticism from many party members and an incredulous Paxman, he nonetheless sticks by his allegations. He names one source as “24 Carat”, and points out the three different denials of truth by No. 10 in 48 hours as a mark of how panicked they are. This edition was also notable for Paxman uttering the F-Word, (albeit whilst quoting).

If Mandelson stands by his line that the Government has “better things to do”, then why the constant media appearances? Three separate denials, along with a television and newspaper interview in a mere two days shows a No. 10 that is more shaken than it’d like us to believe.

25th February: New allegations come to light regarding the relationship between Brown and Blair, as well as Alistair Darling. David Cameron accused the PM of being “at war” with his Chancellor, to much schoolboy laugher in the Commons. Also revealed was another disclosure from the book, alleging that during their final confrontation as Blair stepped down, Brown repeatedly shouted “You ruined my life!”

25th February: Andrew Rawnsley appears on The Guardian’s Politics podcast, arguing that “the public feel more interested and refreshed when politicians are open”.

26th February: Rawnsley’s publishers, Viking, announce they’ve upped the initial print run from 18,000 to 26,000 copies. A minor point perhaps, but clearly blanket press coverage has provided an opportunity for publishers to cash in on a book which previously only garnered interest in political and media circles.

All this is very gripping, and high drama indeed. Those who wrote off this election as a grindingly slow, insipid process have been proved wrong. Despite all this, polls show that the Conservatives only lead by 7 points in the polls, their lowest point in over two years.

I’ll update this entry as new aspects introduce themselves, possibly with a comment piece once the whole thing has come to a conclusion.