Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Labour has found their attack dog

The role of attack dog in British politics is an important one. Particularly when your party is in opposition. They are like a Jack Russell - ever loyal to their owners and eager to please. Perfect to busy around, harry and nip at their opponents.

Labour has been lacking a bit of bite in the media since the election. In the last week this has changed: step forward Michael Dugher, MP for Barnsley East, former lobbyist, special adviser and chief political spokesman for Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

With his career prior to the election he has built a substantial network in the media. I'm told he is one of the few personable people who operated out of Gordon Brown's bunker. During this time he did a few favours that he can now call in. Perhaps more importantly he knows what makes a story.

In the last week he has led the attack over the appointment of David Cameron's official photographer, including the classic attack dog tactic of writing to the Permanent Secretary Gus O'Donnell to ensure longevity in the story. He then tried to reignite the story as the Prime Minister left for China just yesterday. Expect more to come on this.  
He also managed to pop up in another story, to give his friends at The Mirror the quote they needed to accuse David Cameron of cronyism with his choice of business leaders accompanying him to the China summit. Pretty impressive stuff.

Attack dogs are very useful as they allow front bench MPs to concentrate on matters of substance to build credibility in their briefs. It may be that a story doesn't quite stack up - some politicians are nervy about this - so the resident attack dog steps up. It also ensures a party can react with speed; often essential to get a story a good show in today's 24 hour media age with ever shorter news cycles. If they are good they develop close links with Lobby journalists - particularly in the Sunday papers - and often work in partnership to develop a story.

There is a danger that attack dogs can get carried away. Once their language moves into cliche mode - beggars belief - or they start using tired metaphors - ferrets in a sack, elephants in the room - then their attacks can ring hollow. If they go over the top they can turn off floating voters but, more often than not, will become a favourite of the party grassroots.

Acting as an attack dog has been the stepping stone for a number of decent political careers recently. In media terms it is the first rung on the ministerial ladder. Michael Dugher is one to watch.

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