The Blair-Mandelson years have left a long shadow on UK politics. Before Peter Mandelson came along politicians did what they did and people commented on them. Mandelson was the first to realize that you could control what people write about you, and perhaps, through that, even what they think about you. His tight control of media outlets, his access to superiors to steer wayward reporters back into line, his rewarding favourable coverage with inside scoops, and his manipulation of the news agenda, changed politics perhaps forever.
On the down side it has led to an obsession with presentation. It is not what you do that matters; it is people’s perception of what you do. Politics has come to be dominated not by what is the right thing to do, but by what people will think of what you do. The polls and the focus groups have been thrust into the foreground, and have become judges of the viability of a proposal. This is one reason why the Blair governments, despite so many advantages, achieved comparatively little to set alongside the game-changing achievements of the Thatcher years. It also goes some way to explaining the reluctance of the present government to undertake the reforms needed to put Britain back on track.
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