The menaces of media manipulation

Image makers are not always key to success, but if Hague should miraculously part waters he may drown with his minnows.

The Prince of Darkness may for the time being have retreated further into the shadows, but his malign influence still pollutes the land.

For if it were not for the legacy of the rebarbative Mandelson, two nice middle class girls, Amanda Platell and Ffion Jenkins, would be troubled by little more than where to eat and what to wear rather than finding themselves dabbling in the murky waters of media manipulation where they are, alas, mere minnows.

Last week, the product of their musings, an unintentionally entertaining document called Project Hague, was leaked to the Press. It revealed that Amanda and Ffion have put their heads together with the aim of creating a new, exciting image for the leader of the opposition.

One can picture the scene. Amanda, the earnest raven-haired beauty who is Hague’s head of media (not that he has any media), listens, head tilted, brow furrowed, pencil licked, as Ffion, who is Hague’s lawfully enjoined partner of bed and board, stares dreamily at nothing in particular and speaks her thoughts.

“I am wearing a long, white satin dress and a wimple, look you. I am alone and trembling at the castle approach. The portcullis is shut, the sky dark, and the air heavy with a fearful foreboding. There is a roar like a clap of thunder, the earth shakes and the hot stench of the dragon’s breath sears my very being. And then! The pounding of hooves, the clatter of chain mail, the glint on sun of naked steel. It is Hague the Vote! His teeth are white and even. He sweeps across the battlements on his snow white charger. He leans from the saddle and plucks me to safety. Safe in his manly arms, I ride with him into the sunset. Cut.”

“Very good,” says Amanda encouragingly. “But don’t you think we ought somewhere to get across the message that he is good at judo and comes from Yorkshire? Suppose he had a blue belt third dan tucked into his accoutrements. And that bit where he sweeps you up into the saddle, using his rippling arms. What if, as he did so, he said something like, ‘Ey up, lass’? In a deep voice, of course. Like Charlton Heston.”

Ffion is not listening. “The Conservatives are lost in the wilderness,” she says. “They have been wandering for 40 years. Or at least it feels like it. At the head of the lost tribe stands a short, bald, hugely imposing figure. While his followers whimper and wail, and tremble, and lean on one another, their anguish fit to make the heavens weep for shame, he stands alone and ahead, short and calm and dignified. His teeth are white. He raises his staff, the waters miraculously part, and the joyful throng pass into Little England, the promised land.”

“Very good,” says Amanda. “But we ought to make it clear that the waters are those of the treacherous Derwent. And he should say something as they part. How about, ‘Mak’ way for God’s own folk, you booger.’?”

“I’ve got it,” says Ffion. “The scene is the snug bar of the Rat & Cockle somewhere deep in the Dales. It is winter. A log fire crackles in the grate and flickeringly illuminates the cheerful craggy, toothless faces of cloth-capped colourful locals. The air is full of regional banter and the smell of wet lurchers. A bagful of ferrets writhes in the corner.

“And into this convivial scene abseils William. His warm charisma fills the stone-walled room, like steam in a sauna. He laughs, jokes, slaps backs, swigs a point of Old Molestrangler and embraces the nieces who have accompanied him for that purpose. I am wearing the low-cut green number and it’s all I can do to fend off the admiring, tactile appreciation of the gnarled locals.

“William slips an arm around my waist and leads me into the night air. Somewhere in the distance a cow clears its throat. Gently, patiently, and in soft focus, William teaches me to sail. We walk hand-in-hand, past Old Pigg Crag, down the the beach and stroll together, a Yorkie scampering at our heels, into the lambent radiance of sunset over Heckmondwike.”

Poor old Hague. A victim of well-intentioned females acting under the influence of Mandelson. But for all their silly, cliché-ridden notions they tell us something about modern politics that ought to disturb us. Thanks to the misuse and misunderstanding of marketing, politicians have become obsessed with image. New Labour, the creation of Mandelson, was all wrapping and no contents. Its overwhelming success at the polls owed as much to the disarray of the Conservatives and the widespread dislike they had engendered, as it did to the machinations of the image makers.

But the myth got about that media manipulation and slick imagery, crafted to meet the demands of focus groups, are what is required to achieve political success. Amanda Platell (described by Lynda Lee-Potter as a second-rate journalist, a phrase as ingenuously comic as Noel Edmonds’ assertion that the BBC could no longer afford his quality) and Ffion Jenkins are amateurs, and it shows. Their musings, however, are revealing; and their belief that a small, prematurely bald Yorkshireman blessed with a fierce intelligence and the countenance of a gnome can be portrayed as a warm, romantic, daredevil, family man of action is as touching as it is pathetic.

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