Media: A Moment with Marquis

Isn't it ironic that our New Labour government, the most media-conscious of all time, commits so many communications howlers?

As the local elections approach, the national papers are reporting demands from wealthy Labour Party donors for their "loans" to be repaid alongside details of Cherie Blair's breathtaking 2005 election hairdressing bill - about one-third of the annual average wage. It could hardly get tackier.

For all those spin doctors, slick communications strategists and marketing advisers, the Blair government is becoming downright accident-prone in its handling of the media. Gordon Brown and the prime minister, universally known to loathe one another, were seen cosying up together in a recent party political broadcast. As if we would sit there thinking that they really must be mates after all.

By contrast, observe the Queen, enjoying a spell of warm approval thanks to her 80th birthday. Elizabeth II is not one of life's natural communicators, like her namesake 400-plus years ago. She has a woodenness of delivery that would fail an audition for a speaking part, in spite of which she comes across as genuine, caring, decent and honest. Her clunky presentational style doesn't put people off. Indeed, perhaps it's the guarantee that she is for real.

Politicians are not really in the communications business at all. They are in the propaganda business. Communicating, of course, is a two-way street, whereas propagandising doesn't have the irritation of someone answering back. The moral for us toilers in the commercial branch of communications?

Never underestimate your audience.

I guess we shouldn't be surprised that politicians are so duplicitous, given this telling historical fact I unearthed last week about the seat of government in Britain. After Cromwell and the Commonwealth, the monarchy was restored in 1660 and there was a witch-hunt for all those responsible for doing away with Charles I.

Unsurprisingly, the sensible ones had scarpered, but thanks to one of their number giving evidence against several of his colleagues, Messrs Okey, Corbet and Barkstead were captured, tried and sentenced to the particularly grisly fate reserved for traitors of being hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn. The two-timing charmer who grassed on them turned staunchly royalist and went on to be knighted. In 1680, he even put his name to an undistinguished terrace of brick-built London houses known to this day as - wait for it - Downing Street.