Why does the prime minister have an official spokesperson?
Gone are the days when a prime minister’s dealings with the press meant the odd interview in the Daily Mirror or Times Newspaper or perhaps an occasional appearance on the BBC. With today’s plethora of social media platforms and hundreds of TV Channels, it’s easy to see why a more coordinated approach was called for.
The role of the official spokesperson (PMOS) was created to handle press briefings, cover the implementation of Government policy and communicate the prime minister’s take on current events. All of this whilst maintaining the neutrality of the civil service. The role can involve treading a fine line at times. On occasions, it has been handled by a special advisor to the prime minister, such as Alastair Campbell during the Tony Blair years, making the role rather less ambivalent politically.
A Modern Approach.
The role, in theory, is to provide the press with advance notifications of coming events and to give the public a clear and coherent view of Government policy through a series of press briefings, press releases, and following on from the American example, a question-and-answer session in a flag bedecked official room. This can be analysed by the press and widely debated thereafter.
The role, as Alastair Campbell found out, can be a tough one with an often hostile media breathing down your neck and social media exploding into life all around you. You can read some of the accounts here: www.theneweuropean.co.uk/contributor/alastair-campbell. With 24-hour news cycles, the demand for a constant flow of information seems almost insatiable, so the role will remain a high-pressure one for the foreseeable future.
The importance of the role comes to the fore in times of crisis, such as the Covid pandemic, with a worried public seeking information. In an age of misinformation, any attempt at clarity is to be lauded.
The Human touch.
People today expect their politicians to be less aloof, but only those very few who have a great interest are likely to follow lengthy debates in the House of Commons. As such, the role of spokesperson is vital in laying out policy details which can then be presented to the public in the form of easily understood sound bites or given a deeper analysis by more serious outlets for those who seek it. Nonetheless, as Alastair Campbell would no doubt point out, it is not without its pitfalls.