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Good hype (Ed Miliband speech tomorrow) and bad hype (The Archers)

Posted on 3 January 2011 | 10:01am

Hype can be a very dangerous business, and The Archers is the latest commodity to find itself damaged by it.

I am not an Archers’ fan, but Fiona is and yesterday, the biggest anticipation of the day was not celebration of her birthday, but tuning in to make sure she learned what all the fuss was about.

When it turned out that the event which would rock the series for a decade turned out to be a man called Nigel falling from a roof, she felt somewhat cheated. Judging by the reaction online, this appears to have been a widespread feeling.

So why did they do it? The Archers has a solid reputation, a place in the national life, and a real core to it. And I say that as someone who can name none of the characters (apart from Nigel today, because he is all over the media) and likes the theme tune only because Billy Connolly once suggested, in one of his many side-splitting acts, that it should replace God Save the Queen as our national anthem.

So the basic rule is do not overhype if it is going to affect your core strategy and reputation.

In politics, where in the 24 hour media you are constantly being defined by others, care is required too. But I’m afraid a little bit of hype is inevitable and neccessary at times. I once issued an edict in Downing St that we were to say nothing about an upcoming TB speech until he made it. But the media are made up of odd people. Broadcasters tend not to view something as important unless they have read about it in the papers first. Newspapers tend not to deem something worthy of comment unless it has been all over the telly and the radio. So it is all a bit Catch 22. The net result of my ‘no trailing’ strategy was that we got next to no coverage.

A good example of effective pre-briefing is the trailing of Ed Miliband’s visit to the Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election tomorrow. It seems odd to some for briefers to give out words that he ‘will say’ but you can see from the press today that it is a good way of scene-setting. His message, about the damage this week’s VAT rise will do to hard-working families, gets a good outing. The broadcasters will now want to make sure they hear the words, and some will report the words, warning that the VAT rise is the wrong tax rise at the wrong time.

Provided he doesn’t fall from a roof, he should get a fair hearing. In fact, even if he falls from a roof, he will get a fair hearing, provided he doesn’t say in advance that the fall from the roof is likely to be the clincher in the battle to beat the ConDem candidates fighting under a Lib Dem banner.

  • Richard

    Did Nigel fall? Or was he pushed? We should be told.

    Is drEaDful Moribund still on paternity leave or just having a quiet period of reflection as to why no Christmas card from David this year? We should be told.

  • dagi

    Last night’s Archers episode, like Ed Milliband’s Labour Party leadership is an unfolding story, but unlike EM the Archers has nothing to prove.

    I suspect there will be greater public interest in the next Archers episode compared EM’s visit to Oldham East and Saddleworth tomorrow. In terms of public forgiveness for perhaps not coming up to scratch, the Archers will get away with it more easily that the current Labour leadership.

    As someone who didn’t vote for either of the coalition partners, I’ve got a lot of sympathy for the recent headline which I read that claims that EM has had the worst start as party leader than any since IDS.

    EM lacks gravitas and is alienating many people who think New Labour wasn’t anything to apologise for. Time is likely to prove that Labour (or rather the unions) chose the wrong brother.

    Until the Labour leadership starts performing and becomes more centralist, the party’s level of support will continue to under perform, unlike the aforementioned radio soap.

  • Charlie Frost

    I really admire your loyalty to your party, but Ed was the wrong choice and all but those who voted for him from the safe confines of Labour loserism know it. He cannot win an election and in your bones you, who know about how to win elections, know it

  • Hilary Usher

    AC … I agreed with every word of this, but then saw your tweet saying there were too many Bank Holidays. No, no, no. We need more not less. What we need is them to be spread out better. You have said yourself before that you re in the lucky position of being able to pick and choose what you do. Most people can’t and we need those BHs. But all power to your elbow re gettingat the Condemnation

  • Chris Jolley

    Archers … dreadful. However, I am tuning in later to find out what happened to fallen Nigel … so maybe it worked.

  • Jacquie R

    In this country we’re very good at rushing in to condemn people before we know the full facts. For instance, the Bristol man arrested on suspicion of the murder of Joanna Yeates was virtually lynched in the press, without even being charged.

    In the same way, it’s become dangerously fashionable to say that Ed Miliband isn’t up to the job. Even though a big supporter of his, I would agree he hasn’t made a dazzling beginning. But this is precisely what I expected. He doesn’t anticipate an election in the near future and it’s crucial that he does everything necessary now to formulate strong policies and shore up his team and his strategy.

    I am certain we will be seeing the fruits of this as of now. Being wobbly about Ed, criticising him at this stage, or still being miffed that he’s leader, is simply playing into Condem hands. And since we’re not yet in a position to judge him, I hope we well all get behind him.

    • Janete

      I agree that we are far too eager to condemn people unfairly. It’s worth noting though, that many of the commentators promoting a negative narrative about Ed are supporters of this Conservative led government, including some who post on this blog. Given Labour’s lead in the opinion polls, I think much of it is wishful thinking.

    • Richard

      The police placed this man in the pillory. Slightly different from drEaDful Moribund who campaigned for the job!
      Your metaphor does not work! Party leaders will be judged ruthlessly from day 1 until, in his case, the day of his being replaced before the next election.

  • Robert Jackson

    You are right….they could never beat their stunt killing off Grace Archer in the barn fire on the night commercial TV started.

    The late Norman Painting, Grace’ Archer’s story husband, had quite a keen following. My dad met him at some do or other and when he told me about it afterwards (me being a fan at the time) I was mortified that he’d said: “Yes, people either love The Archers or hate it – the music’s enough to put you off.”

  • On this, very rare occasion, I do think you’ve got it wrong! For those who bought the hype, interested in the archers only because it was being hyped, then they may be disappointed. But for the fans it really was a #SATTC moment because we understand the relationship between David (Archer not Miliband) and Lizzie.

  • Sally Welbourn

    Don’t agree EM ‘lacks gravitas’ – what you mean, I think, is that he is young. But I do agree that apologising at every touch and turn is a bad idea, because it suggests that somehow Cameron and his cadavres are right to trash Labour’s record. I wish Labour would start defending it. Maybe it will now that so much bad Tory policy is kicking in.

  • Tom

    Looking forward to hearing yoru thoughts tonight at the Reading Labour Party fundraiser!

  • Jacquie R

    Why use these stupid nicknames? Is it because you want Labour to lose the next election?

  • Michael

    I don’t think gravitas comes necessarily with age – Blair had gravitas by the bucketload as a younger politician.

    Rather, gravitas requires direction. You can’t be prime ministerial without a plan, and Ed has spent over 10% of this entire Parliament saying absolutely nothing. Hardly the flying start Labour needed to pick itself up from the Blair & Brown’s self-destruction.

    Ed wants to represent a new generation, but isn’t saying how he’s on their side. Nothing on council house-building, nothing about giving young people things to do, nothing on a sensible drugs policy, nothing on teenage health issues, no plans for university education.

    David Cameron said at PMQs “you can’t criticise a plan if you haven’t got a plan” and there’s a lot of sense there. While Ed might not have a plan, Caroline Lucas does, David Cameron does and Nick Clegg does. Even Nigel Farage has more of a plan.

    I’m sorry, but I think those people who’ve written him off will prove to be right. Jon Cruddas should’ve entered the leadership race, a thousand times better than either Miliband, and a thousand times more genuine.

  • Anonymous

    I’m with David Whewell (below). Fiona can’t really be an Archers fan if she didn’t see Nigel being killed as shaking Ambridge to the core. Deeply shocking. Most of the hype was driven by the media anyway, not the Archers.