Swing time with the sultans of spin

John Rentoul hears gossip from Bobby's gang: Campaign 1997: how the General Election was won and lost by Nicholas Jones

Campaign 1997: how the General Election was won and lost by Nicholas Jones, Indigo, pounds 8.99

Nick Jones is an odd journalist. Indefatigable, persistent, obsessive, he is always asking questions of anyone who will listen, punctuated with his trademark "Hm?". He is interested in the mechanics of modern political communications and fascinated by the different tactics used by press officers, in the same way a trainspotter would be by an unusual arrangement of wheels. Like a trainspotter, with his tape recorder and notebook, he patiently records the workings of a system which most people simply regard as a means to an end.

The result is an odd book which in no way justifies its subtitle - as the explanation for Labour's landslide is a complex historical question - but is surprisingly interesting all the same. Jones's prime oddity is that he takes spin doctors seriously and sees them as the proper subject of reporting.

Like his previous book, Soundbites and Spin Doctors, much of this one is simply an extended diary of his working life as a BBC journalist. That means it is weighed down by trivial detail about news stories of no lasting importance, but studded with revealing bursts of dialogue written down almost verbatim from Charlie Whelan, Alastair Campbell and David Hill (press officers respectively for Gordon Brown, Tony Blair and the Labour Party) and from Peter Mandelson, who holds a mythic status in the spin doctorate. The Tories are much less open, and most of the time Jones quotes them trotting out the party line. His account sparks to life when the Labour spinners work themselves into a lather of foul-mouthed fury with journalists or, in the case of Whelan on Mandelson, start dissing each other.

Whelan complains to Jones that "Mandelson has been bollocking me all morning", and has constantly tried to undermine him. He admits that it was he who leaked the identity of "Bobby", the secret friend whom Blair thanked in his speech after winning the Labour leadership. This was Mandelson's codename, used to conceal his role from Blair supporters who were hostile to him. "I don't care who knows what I did after the way Mandelson abused me in the leadership election," Whelan says.

This is all trivial enough, except that it is, as Jones points out, symptomatic of tensions at a higher level, principally between Brown and Blair. The frustration of the book is that he takes it no farther than that. After many pages of detailing the spinning, speculating and reporting behind Labour's decision not to raise income tax on the better-off, for example, Jones concludes that there was a real disagreement between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. Yes, but what were the arguments? Why did Blair get his way?

Not only do the motives and characters of the big players remain shrouded in mystery; their spin doctors are not much better exposed. The vignettes of Peter Mandelson, for example, do little to shed light on the extraordinarily complex character at the heart of the Government.

History is something that used to be written after the dust had settled and the 30-year rule had opened the records, when great men and women started to reflect on their lives. Now it is attempted in the Sunday newspapers and, almost as frequently, in books like this that operate on the basis of a 30-minute rule. But a blurred insight into the way politicians and journalists interact - normally concealed from readers, viewers and voters - is still better than finding out what really happened only after many years.

Arts and Entertainment
Keith from The Office ten years on

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams prepares to enter the House of Black and White as Arya Stark in Game of Thrones season five

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Albert Hammond Junior of The Strokes performs at the Natural History Museum on July 6, 2006 in London, England.

music
Arts and Entertainment
Howard Mollison, as played by Michael Gambon
tv review
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush in The King's Speech

The best TV shows and films coming to the service

tv
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Muscling in: Noah Stewart and Julia Bullock in 'The Indian Queen'

opera
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

TV
Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
    Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

    Poldark star Heida Reed

    'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn