Column One: No sugar for Tories in spin doctors' medicine

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The Independent Online
Forget the victories of Greg Rusedski or the award of the Nobel prize for Literature to iconoclast Dario Fo, the biggest winners this week have been the Labour party's spin doctors.

In the seven days earmarked for the birth of a new Tory party and the coronation of its leader, William Hague, the papers instead have been pre-occupied with a plethora of Labour wheezes and stunts.

Take Monday. Just another 24 hours for Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, who managed to meet Russian President Boris Yeltsin, take a trip on the Moscow underground and squeeze in a guest appearance on Russia's top soap House 7, Entrance 4. All guaranteed to bearhug the headlines while the Tories were making their way up to Blackpool.

Not content with meeting the world's second most powerful man, Mr Blair was then visited 24 hours later by the world's richest man. Bill Gates was there to "pledge his support", but not his cash, to the Government's obsession with wiring up the nation's schools to the internet. Then those ubiquitous "senior Labour sources" popped up to reveal that the party was assembling a secret dossier on Tories who had been, allegedly, chanting sexual abuse at the new intake of women MPs. No proof was offered, and none was needed as the media happily swallowed the spin doctor's medicine.

Did anything else happen of note? Oh yes, William Hague's far reaching reforms of the Tory party were approved by its membership. But the Conservatives' constitutional earthquake was hardly the stuff that newsdesks dream of and, besides, Mr Hague only got 36 per cent of the vote whereas the Prime Minister, according to those Labour sources again, had a 93 per cent approval rating.

Wednesday. Labour lands another punch and the Conservatives are busy battering themselves to death. Lord Tebbit unhelpfully and hysterically warned that a mix of cultures could turn Britain into "another Yugoslavia" only to be slapped down by the leadership hours later. Labour meanwhile decide it's time to stop teachers helping pupils to cheat, allegedly, in national curriculum tests and that the world needs to know that Greg Dyke - an FOB (Friend of Blair's) and creator of Roland Rat - will produce a new charter for the NHS. Neither had a pressing need for announcements now as both are stories for next summer, but they stole the thunder from the Tories.

And if you have got it, flaunt it. For the Labour press team the fun is not in retailing the news, but in manufacturing it. This was amply demonstrated by Charlie Whelan, the Chancellor's mouthpiece, on a fly- in-the-corridors-of-power piece of television shown earlier this week which showed the spin doctor predicting the London Evening Standard's front-page splash and then minutes later brandishing it like a trophy won in the war of words.

And it is not just the big Cabinet players who are courting the media lenses. Anne Taylor, leader of the House, was touring coffee houses in Holland - where marijuana can be freely purchased and smoked - on a fact- finding mission. Of course, Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, would never contemplate such a progressive measure but it helps to witness what ministers are missing and gets you onto the news.

William Hague on the other hand appears to be re-reading a speech made earlier by another dashing, right-winger and possible Conservative prime minister Michael Portillo - albeit to the whole conference - just in case anyone missed it the first time round.

Professionally one can only applaud the creaseless art of Labour's spin doctors; but if this carries on it may soon be time to cut out the middle man of the media and simply print the party press release.

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