SpinWatch Called to Account

Strathclyde University Professor David Miller’s paranoid website has been challenged following the row with Alexander Melagrou Hitchens, who writes on the Guardian website:

SpinProfiles and Neocon Europe are projects that, under the guise of academia, are used to carry out campaigns of smear and harassment by creating selectively produced profiles of people and groups with different political outlooks, often ignoring facts that do not support their agenda.

Meanwhile Shiraz Maher writes on Standpoint:

The problem is with SpinProfile’s apparent obsession with “Jewish power” or, if you will, “the Jewish lobby”.

Maher goes on to ask the pertinent question, how is it that some people are subject to unattractive accounts of their lives, while others, with much more influence, are ignored. The answer, as Maher makes clear, is that those who SpinWatch disapproves of, either for their role in the ‘Jewish lobby’ or other crimes, are singled out.

SpinWatch’s editor has critics on the further left, too, like Dr Mark Harvey of the Socialist Workers’ Party, who dismisses him as

a maverick conspiracy theorist at the University of Strathclyde called David Miller, whom nobody on the left takes seriously.

Sadly, it is a judgement on SpinWatch that is all too familiar, as Peter MacMahon wrote in the Edinburgh Evening News, back when the website was first launched

Instead of providing objective analysis of what has become known as “spin”, the site consists mainly of anti-establishment polemics based on largely unsubstantiated assertions which read like they have been written by student union bar Marxists. … And the author of this conspiracy theory nonsense is a professor of sociology at Strathclyde University.

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A World Without Spin?

Strathclyde University Professor David Miller’s SpinWatch dedicates itself to ridding the world of ‘spin’.

Mandeville's 'Fable of the Bees' first showed that a life without interests is no life at all

Is ‘spin’ lying? If so, like Plato’s Republic, a world without spin would have to be ruled by a ‘philosopher king’ who would ‘never willingly tolerate an untruth, but hate it as he loves truth’ (The Republic, Penguin, 1978, p 278). Just as SpinWatch editor David Miller imagines a Scottish assembly and a Westminster Parliament untainted by ‘interests’, so Plato thinks that the ‘guardians’ of the city ‘must be told that they have no need of moral and material gold and sliver, because they have in their hearts the heavenly gold and silver given them by the gods’ (Ibid., p 184).

Not surprisingly, Plato took a dim view of democracy, ‘a splendid garlanded procession of insolence, license, extravagance, and shamelessness’: ‘They praise them all extravagantly and call insolence good breeding, license liberty, extravagance generosity, and shamelessness courage’. (Ibid., 380). Our comic Plato, the editor of SpinWatch, lacks the honesty to say that he loathes democracy for the same reasons – that it rests on the powers of persuasion and argument, spin, in fact.

Maybe lying is just too broad a definition of Spin. Does Miller not have a point that the Public Relations (PR) industry plays a greater role today?

In A Century of Spin Miller and William Dinan record the growth of the PR industry, but their command of the evidence is poor. First they note the growth of PR firms from 46 to 2230 between 1967 and 1994. But the increase might represent the break up of larger firms or the outsourcing of PR functions. They give a better indication by looking at the growing numbers working in PR: 3318 in 1986, 6578 in 1998, 7605 in 2005.

That looks like a big shift. But thought of as a share of the workforce it is less impressive – in fact it is a growth from 0.022 per cent of the UK workforce, to 0.046. A growth, but overall, insignificant. In the preface to A Century of Spin, Miller and Dinan ‘fessed up: ‘we struggled with how best to present and explain all of this and we grappled with what it all meant’ (p 11). You don’t say?

The fear of hidden financial interests has long been a mainstay of reactionary thinking

Miller and Dinan looked at the growth of PR in Scotland, too. In Open Scotland they discovered a ‘dramatic growth of press officers in Scottish governmental bodies over the past thirty years’, from 15 in 1970 to a grand total of 81 in 2000 (p 137). Miller and Dinan asked business executives what PR their companies were planning for the new Scottish Parliament. But the answer they found was that just two per cent had contracted PR firms, while 54 per cent had done ‘nothing’ – ‘the authors were surprised by the results of their survey given the anticipated growth in Scottish corporate communications’ (Open Scotland, p 199 – around the same time, of course, Miller and Dinan’s own sector, Higher Education, has massively expanded ).

Still, no need to let facts get in the way of a good story – or a hysterical panic. Miller and Dinan endow ‘Spin’ with magical powers over the people:

Corporate spin is an important means by which corporate power is defended and extended … the management of perceptions, beliefs and ultimately behaviours … the cutting edge of corporate power in its campaign to stifle democracy (Thinker Faker, Spinner, Spy, 2007, pp 1, 3, 18)

 Their charge that Spin threatens democracy is all the more comic since their prescription is to give unelected commissioners power over elected parliaments. Still, anyone who argues with the SpinWatch case had better watch out. The belief that Spin is not as important as Miller and Dinan say is itself an example of spin:

This misrecognition is no accident. It is part of the project of corporate spin and the public relations industry to deny, dissemble and disguise their own work. Thinker, Faker… p 1

 There is, of course, quite a literature on the growth of business consultancies – but those remain a closed book to Miller and Dinan. Worse, the scholarly view is that such consultancies are not a sign of powerful corporations, but rather that they are predatory upon insecure executives and public sector managers.

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SpinWatch’s David Miller: wrong about everything – except the funding applications

This article is part of the corruption portal

The one thing about the SpinWatch editor and Strathclyde University Professor David Miller that stands out above all others. And that is that he always goes along with whatever delusion the media is selling.  Has any man ever been so willingly spun this way and that? Whether it is the ‘aids epidemic’, ‘ethnic cleansing’ in Bosnia, ‘genocide’ in Rwanda, ‘media violence’ and video nasties, law and order, the ‘BSE plague’, the supposed dangers of ‘Frankenfood’, the threat posed by MMR, or corruption in parliament – Miller has bought into every panic. Far from studying the media critically, Miller parrots every crank newspaper panic without thinking. He is the Strathclyde Professor of tabloid ranting, wrong about everything, but never once going back to try and work out why, just blustering on to the next received opinion.

Still, when you look at Miller’s research grants, you can see that going along with the panic of the day has been a lucrative business. His funding applications show a bloodhound’s sense for ‘following the money’:

1989-1992 AIDS Media Research Project, funded by the ESRC AIDS programme

But media analyst Miller missed the main story, that the government had exaggerated the risk of AIDS. Instead, he argues that AIDS education is an instance where spinning the truth is justified (Message Received, p 30) 

Professor David Miller

1992-1994 Food Panics in the Media project funded by the ESRC Nation’s Diet Initiatives

Miller concluded that the threat of contracting ‘human BSE’ (CJD) led people to distrust official sources (Message Received, p 139). But in fact there was no such threat. The CJD epidemic was an hysterical panic that never appeared.

 1996-1998 Media and Expert Constructions of Risk Project funded by the ESRC Risk Programme

Around this time Miller was actively promoting a media panic over Video Nasties, and then crime more generally. His central contribution was to call into question the whole notion of a ‘moral panic’, that is to make ‘risk’ a natural not a social category.

 1998-2001 Political Communication and Democracy’, Funded by the ESRC ‘Media Culture and Media Economics’ Programme.

This was the point that Miller started to get out of media analysis and into political sociology, by coat-tailing the ‘cash-for-questions’ media storm.

 1999-2001 Political Communication and the Scottish Parliament funded by the ESRC Devolution programme.

‘The new constitutional settlement of 1999, we thought, might herald a moment … of new solutions to the need for wide engagement in democracy at the Scottish level’, thought Miller, naively (Open Scotland, 2001, vii).  But ten years later he bemoaned that  ‘the tentacles of corporate Scotland stretch into every institution of the state’ (Neoliberal Scotland, 2010, p 116)

 2001 Global Media Monitoring Project coordinated by the World Association of Christian Communication

A cynical boilerplate piece of media analysis of images of women structured for no other purpose than to shake money out of the church tree.

 2000-2003 Corporate Public Relations in British and Multinational companies, funded by the ESRC.

This was the grant that Miller put into his own private company, the ironically named, Public Interest Investigations.

 2003 and 2004 Miller got money both from the Scottish TUC and the Water Customer Consultation Panels in Scotland.

In 2004, an unexplained grant of £45,000 from the Scottish Executive, to this unremitting critic of Holyrood spin and corruption – around the same time that he was accusing First Minster Jack McConnell of profiting from a £1.5 million PR campaign to promote Scottish fisheries. ‘The tentacles of corporate Scotland’ stretch far indeed.

In 2007 Miller was again caning funds from the ESRC, this time to research ‘environmental advocacy’.

2008 Miller cadged £4,500 from the public service workers’ union Unison to ‘review public services’, and again got more from the ESRC to investigate the use of the Freedom of Information Act – with the support of the Scottish Information Commissioner.

In 2009 Miller was raiding the funds of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council for work on ‘science communication’ (this from a man who thinks that the Royal Society is a sinister conspiracy).

At the same time the ecumenical Miller got more funding from the ESRC in a project in partnership with the Scottish-Islamic Foundation, and £12,000 from a workgroup on teaching about terrorism.

Miller’s true talents are in playing whatever anxiety is going, the better to raid the public purse.

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SPINWATCH: FOR OR AGAINST WAR?

‘The failure of the international community to intervene in this mass slaughter still represents a monumental failure of the “civilised world” …instead of acting to save lives, the UN Security Council drastically reduced the presence of UN troops’ Counterpunch, 2 April 2004

Just another American warmonger trying to wrap up invasion plans in the crass disguise of ‘humanitarian intervention’? Well, yes, except this warmonger is Scottish: Emma Miller, wife of SpinWatch editor and Strathclyde University Professor David Miller, writing about Rwanda. You might think that in the year after the Gulf War, you would have worked out that the ‘international community’ is a euphemism for western intervention, and that western troops on the ground is not a good thing.

Blair backs Kagame's dictatorship in Rwanda, and so does SpinWatch

In a book Tell Me Lies: Propaganda and Media Distortion in the Attack on Iraq, edited by David Miller that year, one Mark Curtis quoted a government document saying that ‘public support will be to the conduct of military interventions in the future’. The report takes heart from ‘a public desire to see the UK act as a force for good’ (p 70) – meaning, presumably, groups like SpinWatch.

It was not just over Rwanda that the SpinWatchers thought that western intervention was needed to deal with ethnic violence. Mark Curtis pointed out that the campaign in Kosovo depended on keeping ‘on side the public and political support for the campaign’  and that it was important to exaggerate the threat to ethnic Albanians (78). But in 1999 SpinWatch editor David Miller was one of those who talked up the dangers of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo: ‘It is the same process in racism and with ethnic cleansing in Kosovo – the attitude that ‘they are going to take our jobs’.”

SpinWatch backed the propaganda war against the Serbs that ended with bombing Belgrade

Indeed so adamant were the SpinWatchers that western intervention was a good thing that they viciously condemned those who made the mistake of being ‘totally opposed to armed intervention’ – namely the magazine Living Marxism. SpinWatchers Claire Robinson and Jonathan Matthews poured scorn characterising LM’s their position like this:

The portrayal of the Tutsis and the Bosnian moslems as victims of horrific atrocities could fuel demands for greater intervention not only in those conflicts but elsewhere. Those behind LM and the RCP therefore fought to undermine such perceptions.

The record, is, then, that SpinWatch’s contributors, David Miller, Claire Robinson and Jonathan Matthews were all in favour of military intervention in Bosnia, Rwanda, and Kosovo. It was only in 2003, confronted with the enormity of the war against Iraq that they recoiled from the horror of western imperialism.

Still, better a sinner that repenteth, you might say. Since the SpinWatchers have accepted that they were in the wrong, and in fact it was Living Marxism that was right about being ‘totally opposed to armed intervention’ after all, that is all to the good.

Except the SpinWatchers never did accept that they were in the wrong. Where people of principle would have admitted their error, the SpinWatchers just tried to shout out their opposition to the Iraq war as loud as they could, the better to avoid thinking about why they had only just woken up to the horrors of western imperialism.

SpinWatch turned on old allies like Nick Cohen to hide their own shameful record

To cover up their guilt, the SpinWatchers turned viciously on all their old allies in the campaign for humanitarian intervention who had not managed to Spin around to fight the war. Nick Cohen and Martin Bright had been on the SpinWatch side over Bosnia and Rwanda, but now they were in the wrong, so they had to be denounced as loudly as possible – the better to prove the SpinWatchers’ doubtful loyalty to the anti-War cause.

Also, the SpinWatchers had to re-write the history of western imperialism. To avoid owning up to their mistakes, they had to pretend that the trend towards western intervention was a new departure. They could not admit that the intervention in Iraq was the bloodiest chapter in a long story of intervention running from Somalia, through Bosnia, Sierra Leone and Kosovo. To admit that much would be to own up that they had been among the imperialists’ cheerleaders throughout.

So Miller and his friends made up an imaginary push towards war. The war was a secret plot cooked up by Jews in the neoconservative movement. The war was driven by a need for oil (Rowell, Tell Me Lies). The war was a secret plot by the Foreign Office (Miller, Tell Me Lies).

‘There is very little public debate on the propaganda apparatus and very few people know of the extensive machinery which has been built up’, wrote Miller (Tell Me Lies, p 80). One reason why there was ‘very little debate’ was that most of the left, including Miller, were right behind the UK government’s war propaganda.

In 2004 David Miller said that ‘the strategy of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is to fundamentally misrepresent the British role as consisting of benevolence and respect for human right’. (Tell Me Lies, 84). But in 2000 Miller and his wife were part of that propaganda campaign, writing briefs for the UK’s Department for International Development about how best to promote Britain’s role abroad.

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Defend SpinProfiles’ right to free speech!

Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens’ threat of legal action against Spinprofiles is an attack on free speech, and must be resisted. Meleagrou-Hitchens has worked with the Policy Exchange and the Centre for Social Cohesion (he is also Christopher Hitchens’ son).

The legal action closes down the SpinProfiles internet service provider, so for now the site is hosted here, though editor David Miller promises to have it back up at the old address soon. Send messages of support here.

SpinWatch-Watch defends the right of free speech, even though we disagree with many things that SpinProfiles has said. ‘Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes,’ Gandhi said.

LM editor Mick Hume appeals for support

One of SpinWatch’s mistakes is that it does not support freedom of speech, itself. Instead they supported the libel action that closed down another radical magazine, Living Marxism, accusing them of ‘promoting themselves as the victims of “ITN’s deplorable attack on press freedom”’ and capitalising ‘on the poor regard in which Britain’s libel laws are widely held’. SpinWatch mocked LM’s defence of free speech, thinking it absurd to oppose ‘any kind of social constraint, legal restriction or other form of intervention’.

In fact SpinWatch editor David Miller has never been in favour of free speech. When Miller and Greg Philo were defending themselves against charges of promoting the ‘Video Nasty’ panic, they protested at the ‘tendency to displace the argument onto the terrain of censorship’, noting that ‘the Left has tended to ally itself with liberals and libertarians in an anti-censorship position, while critics of that position are caricatured as “moral” campaigners’ (Message Received, 1999, p 26). On 5 September 1998 Miller and Philo wrote to the Guardian demanding greater regulation of broadcasting.

Of course, the Glasgow Media Group, where Miller first worked with Greg Philo never did support free speech. The group’s policy proposals in 1977 were for state control of the media under ‘democratic boards’ on the grounds that broadcasting was in the hands of the powerful (Really Bad News, 159).

Defending SpinWatch’s right to free speech does not mean that we agree with what it says. But we cannot abandon their right to talk nonsense without abandoning our right to decide for ourselves what is nonsense and what is not.

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GLASGOW MEDIA GROUP IN MELTDOWN

scenes from David Miller’s formative years

In 2001, Glasgow Media Group chief Greg Philo and his protégé David Miller (later SpinWatch editor) published a crazed essay ‘Cultural Compliance’ (in Market Killing, Longman, 2001) that was part manifesto, part suicide note. Shortly afterwards Miller moved to Strathclyde University and set up SpinWatch.

‘Cultural Compliance’ was trailed as a counterblast against the post-modern trivialisation of social science and the descent of cultural studies into so many word games and unsubstantiated theories (see Laurie Taylor’s advance review, ‘Time to Join the Real World’, Guardian 5 July 2000; Philo interview)

As such, it was a bit late in the day. More than a decade earlier the right-winger Allan Bloom had excoriated the relativism of the ‘Heideggerian left’ (in The Closing of the American Mind, 1987) and the radicals at Living Marxism attacked the ‘Post-modern, ante-Enlightenment’ thinkers Baudrillard and Lyotard (June 1990).

Still, Miller and Philo argued that ‘there has been an absence of will to address the real and often brutal power relationships which have transformed our cultural life’, ‘social relationships of power and interest which structure our society’, that ‘we have described above’ (Market Killing, 33). But the description ‘above’ where Miller and Philo try to set the foundations of all super-structural analysis is piss-poor.

Though set out in a kind of cod-Marxist language Miller and Philo’s analysis is really a conservative elegy to a lost world of security and community that has been broken up by selfish greed and commerce. Tony Blair, they said, carried on the ‘commitment to free market liberalism’ (Market Killing, 18). Most of all, they deplored the rise in crime.

Miller and Philo had been stung by Ill Effects’ editors Martin Barker and Julian Petley’s charges of stoking a moral panic about violence. In reply Miller and Philo wrote in 1999 ‘in the end the incidence of murder, child murder, assault or rape is an empirical question’ (Message Received, 28) – but gave no empirical statistics to back it up.

In 2001 they insisted that the rise in ‘recorded crimes of violence against the person’ between 1979 and 1997 ‘cannot be explained away by reference to the reporting rates or statistical procedures’ (Market Killing, 15).

Manchester Police Chief James Anderton cranked up the crime stats

Recall that between 1979 and 1997 the Conservative Party’s strategy was to politicise crime rates to justify greater police powers; that reactionary police chiefs like Manchester’s James Anderton were the people recording the statistics; and that many of those violent crimes recorded would have included the ‘picket line violence’ that the Glasgow Media Group had shown was a media exaggeration (see Simon Jenkins, Against the Grain, 1994, for a full breakdown of how the numbers were inflated). How could any social scientist think that recorded crime statistics were not massaged?

The evidence that the crime statistics were exaggerated is that recorded rates of violent crime rates started to fall from 1995 onwards. Miller and Philo’s vision of Broken Britain just is not supported by the empirical evidence that they insist upon.

Mogwai had a better idea about policing

Apart from stoking the crime panic, Miller and Philo rail against the ‘celebration of speed and sexual pulling power’ in Top Gear, and that ‘in the laddish cultural variant the key commodities for consumption are cars, women and alcohol’ (12, 13). And while the Glasgow police were preparing their child curfew, Miller and Philo were on hand to write the Daily Mail-style copy: ‘the involvement of boys aged ten to thirteen in violent crime rose by 50 per cent’ (16). Miller and Philo approve of teacher Michael McMahon’s complaint that ‘it is the schools, not the courts, that are once more called upon to contain the underclass’ (19).

Associated with the collapse in morality – but only in Miller and Philo’s minds – is a descent of cultural studies into irresponsibility: ‘academics have become culture industry groupies’ (32). Defending their mind-control ‘media effects’ position Miller and Philo insist that ‘cultural industries have much to do with the formation and transformation of beliefs’ (55).

One could approve of Miller and Philo’s complaints that ‘post-modernism abandons such concepts as “reality” and “truth”,’ (33) but that they are part of a generalised attack on any kind of theoretical examination. Elsewhere, Miller makes the sweeping attack ‘contemporary social and cultural theory has lost itself in arcane language games and theoreticist speculation’ (Rethinking Northern Ireland, 1998, p 35). But his alternative is a dumb idolisation of empirical evidence, failing to see that even empirical evidence needs a theoretical framework to select and understand it.

Keynes made the point that those who say they are not interested in theories are generally found to be in thrall to some out-moded theory that they have forgotten informs their thinking. Here it is A. J. Ayer’s English school of analytic philosophy that is the unacknowledged mind-set. Miller and Philo’s anti-intellectualism, though, just leaves the door open for every single backward-looking prejudice to come rushing in – from the demand for greater police powers, to ‘bring back the good old days’.

The 2001 essay ‘Cultural Compliance’ was a strange coda on 25 years work of the Glasgow Media Group. Having pioneered the analysis of the media – but then having been called out by younger researchers for stoking a moral panic – Philo and Miller effectively call for an abandonment of media research. How much of that was Philo’s exhaustion with the Glasgow Group, and how much was Miller’s frustration at the cul-de-sac he was in, as Philo’s second in command?

Blair's education secretary Charles Clarke demanded research prove its usefulness

Instead of cultural studies, ‘Cultural Compliance’ calls for hard social science ‘informed by a rational discussion of the outcomes of social policy’ (Market Killing, 32) – in other words an end to disinterested research, and academics put to work promoting government programmes. Reviewing ‘Cultural Compliance’, Jim McGuigan wrote

this is the position of the British Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) in its turn to hard-nosed, numbers-crunching “usefulness”, in effect a social arithmetic … it marginalises critical social science and interpretative methods’ (Journalism Studies, 2001, 2: 4, 630).

The same year Miller was awarded an ESRC grant, for a project which took him out of media studies and into the analysis of public relations and corporate networks. What he took from his years with the Glasgow Media Group was a conspiratorial view of the power of the media, an aversion to theory and a backward-looking conservatism.

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The SpinWatchers on New Labour’s Pay Roll

Reading SpinWatch and its spin-offs you might get the idea that it was critical of the New Labour project. But that was not always the case. In the 1990s, as New Labour was getting its act together, the people who would form SpinWatch – the Glasgow Media group – played their own bit part.

The things that the SpinWatchers and the New Labour team worked together on were social order policies at home, and so-called ‘humanitarian intervention’ abroad.

Shadow Home Secretary Tony Blair

As shadow home secretary Tony Blair called on Home Office policy wonks to help him draw up a distinctive strategy for dealing with public perceptions of crime, headlined ‘tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime’. Blair’s preference was for ‘non-custodial’ ways of coping with the perceived problem of public order.

Sharing Blair’s hysterical fears of public disorder, Glasgow Media Group head, and David Miller’s boss, Greg Philo offered his services to the New Labour team. Philo’s proposed ‘anti-violence education’ which he discussed with the Scottish Office and and collaborated with ‘the government’s junior education minister about his work’. As Sara Bragg wrote in the collection Ill Effects ‘Philo may have an independent stake in bringing the issues to the fore, since it will help advance’ his ‘status, power, and material resources’ (Sara Bragg, ‘Media Regulation, Education and the “Problem” of Media Violence’, Ill Effects 2nd Edition, p 87, 98).

Already, David Miller had tried to pitch for business promoting ‘safer sex’ education to take advantage of the sharp rise in Department of Health funding during the AIDS panic. ‘We wanted to know how health information could be conveyed more effectively’, Miller’s co-researcher Jenny Kitzinger flannelled (Message Received, p 7).

Having broken ranks from those they thought of as their effete southern Media Studies rivals, the Glasgow Group thought they were entitled to some payback.

Hawking social order programmes to the Scottish Office was only the beginning of the Glasgow Media Group’s pitch for the New Labour shilling. After all, there was their special expertise into the public reception of British imperialism abroad.

The Glasgow Media group pitched for work selling Britain abroad. Around the same time ad-man Wally Olins was ‘re-branding Britain’ – concluding that the country had an image problem of its imperialist past. So the Glasgow Media Group offered its services selling the British government’s Department for Overseas Development, DFID.

Clare Short at the DFID office with Kofi Annan - she commissioned research from the Glasgow group

SpinWatch editor David Miller’s wife Emma did the report, based on research of television news coverage of the developing world. The weight of Emma Miller’s report was that broadcasters ought to do more to educate viewers about the wider world, and, by implication, Britain’s role in it. The report applauded some news programmes [that] did make an effort to produce longer and more contextual special reports’ like ‘Newsnight’s special report on Education in Tanzania’ (where DFID was directing British aid money). On the other hand, ‘other news programmes offered a more limited reporting of the developing world’ chided Miller (Viewing the World: a study of British television coverage of developing countries, DFID, July, 2000, p 23).

Miller condemned broadcasters, too, for failing to properly motivate British policy in Rwanda with items that give ‘little more than a basic allusion to the 1994 genocide in Rwanda and in most cases, the economic or political structure that yielded the violence is not discussed’ (Viewing the World, p 50). British Prime Minister Tony Blair – like Emma Miller – was a keen champion of the new Rwandan leader Paul Kagame, who was using ‘the genocide’ to vilify opponents of his government.

Promoting social regulation of young hooligans at home, and of Britain’s humanitarian mission abroad fitted well with New Labour’s goals. But the Glasgow Group were competing in a buyer’s market – up against better appointed think tanks like Demos and Mark Leonard’s Foreign Policy Centre (later, these more successful rivals would be attacked in a spectacular instance of sour grapes).

A new Scottish Executive under Donald Dewar made opportunities for academic research grants

Surer success came by playing to the group’s strengths, notably their Scottish and university base – but that meant turning away from media analysis. SpinWatchers David Miller and William Dinan gouged cash from research grants from the Economic and Social Research Council into Scotland’s post-devolution political culture. Dinan cadged a grant to look into ‘The Scottish Parliament and Political Communication’. Miller set up his private company (the ironically titled) Public Interest Investigations to plunder another ESRC grant, of nearly a quarter of a million, to look into Corporate Public Relations.

David Miller uses the ESRC and other grant money stashed in his own private company to reward some of the volunteers who enter data onto the SpinProfiles website: ‘do check with David first though as he is in charge of paying people’ (Claire Robinson, Deleted from Miriam Rose’s user profile talk, 19 June 2010).

Dinan, too, tried his hand at turning public goods into private benefits working as a consultant for ‘various public bodies, including BBC Scotland, the Scottish Parliament and the Water Customer Consultation Panel’ (Thinker, Faker, Spinner, Spy, 2007, p 306). At Strathclyde University Emma Miller won funding ‘from the Joint Improvement Team of the Scottish Government to develop and implement an outcomes approach to practice in community care’ as well as ‘from the National Carers Organisations’.

Later, the SpinWatchers would bite the New Labour hand that fed them – but only after the Blair government’s popularity had waned. 

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