The clash between Lord Mandelson and Andrew Marr on BBC1 on Sunday morning was entertaining fare but an example of all that can go wrong when media training tactics are taken to an extreme.
Marr rightly asked about Mandelson’s remarks in a leaked email about Gordon Brown being “insecure, self-conscious physically and emotionally, uncomfortable in his skin and angry.”
In the narrow terms of defending his corner over the controversial comments Mandelson stonewalled, evaded and bullied brilliantly. However, his robotic and stubborn refusal to answer the questions and use of bridging even more obvious than the Golden Gate must have played terribly with the viewers.
Voters, and the public more generally, are becoming increasingly aware of the interview tactics those in authority use to avoid embarrassing questions – and increasingly more contemptuous and cynical. Mandelson’s systematic and arrogant avoidance of the issues is the sort of approach which has done so much to bring politics into disrepute and undermine people’s faith in the Westminster culture. (Even before the expenses scandal.)
There is nothing clever about deliberate evasion. Media trainers need to start telling those that attend their sessions that honesty and humility can be extremely powerful means of protecting their reputations. If Mandelson genuinely does support Brown, he would have been far more effective by admitting making the “angry and insecure” remarks but then confessing to having been mistaken in analysis.
Instead, most I have talked to were left with the impression that he was embarrassed by press disclosure of the email – and still holds the views contained in it.