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
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Arts and Entertainment
James singer Tim Booth
latitude 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Lee says: 'I never, ever set out to offend, but it can be an accidental by-product'
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe judges were wowed by the actress' individual cooking style
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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.

    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
    Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

    Take a good look while you can

    How climate change could wipe out this seal
    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

    Farewell, my lovely

    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
    Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

    Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

    Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

    John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
    Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

    Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

    The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
    The 10 best pedicure products

    Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

    Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

    Commonwealth Games 2014

    Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
    Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

    Jack Pitt-Brooke

    Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism