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Interview with Jonathan Hill, Political Secretary to John Major: “A Journey into Political Communication”

London, 18th February 2004
Entretien avec Jonathan Hill, Secrétaire politique de John Major : « Itinéraire de la communication politique »
David Haigron et Jonathan Hill

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1This interview aims at assessing the internal organisation of the Conservative Party and how policy making, election campaigning and communication strategy are worked out. Its purpose is also to suggest the political advisers’ role and influence in these three domains.

David Haigron: There are two issues I would like to broach with you. My first question is about your role as a member of the Policy Unit and as John Major’s Political Secretary. And the second aspect I would like to talk about with you is the creation of a campaign, from the elaboration of a concept and a message to the final presentation to the public, that is to say the speech, the poster or the Party Election Broadcast. So if you would like to start with how you came to work as a member of the Policy Unit in 1991. What were you doing before?

Jonathan Hill: Previously, back in the 1980s, I’d worked as a special adviser to Kenneth Clarke and I’d worked in a number of government departments, having, before that, been in the Conservative Research Department which, traditionally, has been a sort of nursery for the Tory party, for people going into politics. Before that, I’d done a whole mix of things. I went into publishing. I worked in the City. I started a PhD but didn’t finish it. I stepped into politics by accident, liked politics, left, having had three and a half years with Kenneth Clarke, to go and work in Public Relations – in PR – got bored with that… When Mrs Thatcher fell in November 1990, I knew that there’d be a bit of aclearout at Number Ten with some people moving on. So I just wrote in. It sounds rather amateur but that is largely how our system works here. It was certainly true then; I think they’re more professional now. I wrote to Sarah Hogg, who was the head of the Policy Unit.

DH: Did you know her before?

JH: No. I said, “this is what I’ve done and I’d quite like to come and work with the Policy Unit”. And she said yes. That’s a reflection of the fact, actually, that these jobs are often quite hard to fill and they’re particularly hard to fill if your party’s been in government for a long time. But if you’re going in from having been in opposition, then of course, it’s natural that people want to move across. When you’ve been in for a long time, especially as was the case in those days, you can’t really advertise that sort of job. It depends pretty much therefore on what your networks are, who you’ve bumped into. So, writing in was actually the right thing to have done. The Policy Unit was much smaller then.

DH: How many people were there?

JH: There were six people. The Political Office, when I started there, was the Political Secretary, one person answering letters, a very basic person answering letters, and two secretaries. That was it. Do you know how Number Ten works broadly?

DH: A little bit, yes.

JH: Basically, in my time, the Policy Unit was normally a mix of a couple of career civil servants, coming in from elsewhere in Whitehall, three or four people brought in from outside, from a mix of backgrounds, typically some from banking, some from industry, and, well, in my case, I don’t know how you’d describe my background. They would be on civil service contracts if they were career civil servants or on a short-term civil service contract as I was then. The Private Office were all, then, career civil servants. They would be high flyers just coming to Number Ten and then going back to their Departments. The Press Office, then again, were all career civil servants. And then the Policy Unit, which was a mix of civil servants and outsiders. So they were all on civil service contracts. And finally there was a tiny Political Office where we were being paid by the party. So I moved from the Policy Unit, where I had a job which was to advise the Prime Minister on policy…

DH: What kind of people were they looking for? People specializing in a certain domain?

JH: Yes, again it was a mix. It was broken down into different domains and you were responsible for certain areas. I did housing, transport and… inner city policy. And I certainly wasn’t a specialist; I had no background in any of those. I was no expert in the advice or contribution that I could make.

DH: Were the party or the Prime Minister looking for people with political sympathies?

JH: To work at the Policy Unit, yes, unless you were a civil servant, in which case your politics didn’t come into it. Certainly, then, civil service impartiality wasn’t a myth and the notion that you would not ask a civil servant what his politics were and you didn’t take it into account was very strongly maintained. On the other hand, people like me, in the Policy Unit, had to be sympathetic to the government of the day and to the Prime Minister, really. Otherwise, you couldn’t have done the job. There wasn’t anything that said, “you must be a member of the Conservative party”, and actually I wasn’t a member at the time as I hadn’t bothered to join, although I was and am a Conservative. But I think had you not been, you just would’ve been really unhappy and couldn’t have done the job. But at the time I was in the Policy Unit, there were three or four members who were kind of experts. They were Conservative-leaning but they probably wouldn’t describe themselves as… Tories, if you know what I mean. We covered policy areas but we were basically political and fairly generalist in our approach. In a way we were more interested in the politics than in the technical details. And I certainly fell within that category and, actually, even when I was in the Policy Unit – and again this is a reflection of how these places all work because they are small and intimate – you end up doing what the Prime Minister wants; you end up doing what’s useful. I was there in a pre-election period and what he needed, what was useful was, increasingly, presentation work. Actually quite a long time before the election, I was being used more and more to advise him on presentational things, writing stuff and preparing him for a speech or a big policy announcement or an interview or whatever.

DH: Was this your role as a Political Secretary?

JH: Even before I formally became Political Secretary, I was doing quite a lot of the Political Secretary’s job. That was partly because mypredecessor as Political Secretary had been adopted as a candidate to fight a seat, a parliamentary seat. So she was off doing that.

DH: What was her name?

JH: She was called Judith Chaplin. She died shortly afterwards sadly. Judith was off campaigning. And because, during the very important pre-election period, six, twelve months before polling day, she was only doing three or four days a week at Number Ten, there was a gap and so, in the Policy Unit, we ended up doing more of the work the Political Office should have been doing, really, to be honest. So I gradually got sucked into that work. And then it was a natural step, when the Prime Minister called the election – whenever that was, in February or March – that I, then, fully became Political Secretary. But Judith carried on, because that was what she wanted, until the day he called the election. So I couldn’t really get my hands on anything until then.

DH: And just to finish on the Policy Unit, how did the Policy Unit work with other organisations, like the Conservative Research Department?

JH: There’s one simple point to be made on that. When the party – let’s stick with the Tory Party – is in government, things like the Research Department and Conservative Central Office generally become pretty unimportant. They don’t like to admit that and it’s a source of some tension, but it is a fact that power is in government departments, power is in Number Ten, but no power is in Central Office or the Research Department. When the Tories were in government, the Research Department hired some bright young men who would hope that if things went well, in a couple of years maybe, then they’d become special advisers or what-have-you. You prove yourself by doing some fairly basic sort of political work and showing that you’re keen and willing, rather than by some sort of policy work. So in terms of policy, when the Tories were in power, the Research Department was irrelevant.

DH: What was your relationship with the Chief Publicity Officer or the Director of Communications?

JH: At Central Office?

DH: Yes. Did Number Ten work well with Central Office?

JH: It worked quite alright. The honest answer, I think, as is nearly always the case in any situation I can think of, whether it is in business or in politics or anywhere, is that it depends on personalities.

DH: Was Tim Bell the Chief Publicity Officer at the time?

JH: No. I can talk about that as well but let me answer the first bit first. There were four positions. As in government Central Office becomes largely irrelevant, the press side – because journalists want to go where the decisions are being made, where the power is and they’re very good at sniffing out where power is– came to Number Ten. The Number Ten Press Office, then but not now, was staffed by career civil servants, who would talk about government policy but they wouldn’t talk about party politics. They weren’t allowed to say anything on behalf of the Conservative Party or have any kind of political role. Most of the time, that worked perfectly fine. As you get nearer to an election, of course, the Prime Minister starts to think of himself more again as a politician seeking re-election than as the head of an administration. So you have to start thinking about your election campaign and all that entails. And in those days, the election campaign obviously could be something that the Number Ten Press Office, or the Prime Minister, or the Political Secretary, or anyone else was involved in. There was, then, a definite dividing line. Now it isn’t the case at all, because as you know Labour have changed all that. They have a highly political Press Secretary who has been involved in everything to do with politics and they have a highly political Prime Minister who is always thinking about the next election, which is a perfectly sensible thing to do. My lot lost sight of the election. So for most of the time in government, that relationship between Central Office, Press Office and Number Ten was fine. Number Ten was in the driving seat. Central Office was irrelevant, if a bit resentful. They didn’t like to feel it and every now and again they tried to make themselves feel important by talking to journalists. But when it got nearer to the election, they had to become more involved. And what we set up was a little committee on communications. It was called the Number 12 Committee because it was chaired by the Chief Whip and it operated at 12 Downing Street. And it met every morning. And that had a mix of people from Number 10, Number 12 and from Central Office. And as we got nearer to the election, the sort of political input from Central Office increased. And I suppose that was one attempt to bridge the gap and reduce the tension. I suppose there should have been three departments or units. One was that, the Prime Minister and the Party Chairman, who was then Chris Patten. One should have been – but it wasn’t working properly to be honest – the PoliticalSecretary and Central Office. And then, the other was – which is relevant, I suppose, to your thesis – what the Prime Minister set up and what we called the “A-team”, which was a small group of cabinet ministers.

DH: The “A-team”?

JH: Yes, the “A-team”. It’s not very original. I can’t remember who they were now but they were five or six senior cabinet ministers who were involved in the manifesto process and, in a very general sense, in some of the election planning. But really election planning was done by the Party Chairman and his team. My observation – this is a critical observation on how it worked in 1992 which is the one I know best (although I was also involved a bit at the end in 1997 to administer the last rites) – is that actually, in practice, the integration between Central Office and Number Ten on election planning didn’t work at all. Central Office, as always, seemed to think – and I know this was true in Mrs Thatcher’s days as well – they always saw it as their campaign and the Prime Minister was a sort of irrelevance on the side. The consequence of that was – I found in 1992 and it was still the same in 1997 – that there was almost no planning. When I took over and became involved – in, for the sake of argument, January or February, very close to him calling the election – there did not, for example, exist a prime ministerial programme. They had not planned what the Prime Minister was going to do during the election campaign. There wasn’t tension in the sense that, at that point, people weren’t shouting or screaming at each other but it just didn’t work. It could have been made to work. There was a combination of reasons why it didn’t, partly, as I said, because Central Office wasn’t terribly good and partly because Number Ten hadn’t grasped it either, to be fair. It could have been grasped. It just wasn’t. They had – and this is going a long way back – a Director of Communications, I think they called him.

DH: Shaun Woodward, wasn’t it?

JH: …Yes, Shaun Woodward, who subsequently became a Labour MP, which is not very popular. But that, in a way, if you know how firmly tribal our political system is, indicates the problem: if your Director of Communications, a Tory, who became a Conservative MP can then decide to become a Labour MP… It doesn’t happen that often. Actually he’d had no background in political communication. He’d worked in television and the Chairman thought he’d be jolly good.

DH: I guess Chris Patten though that television would be a very important medium to use.

JH: Yes, it was. When you try to find – and this comes to the nub of some of your broader questions – when you try to find people who are good at political communication, which the Tories have done for a very long time to be fair, then it can be efficient. But what they’ve done for a long time is they’ve appointed people to that job who were journalists, either in newspapers or television. They were professional journalists. They weren’t politically active or experienced. They were all Conservatives but they certainly weren’t political first and journalists second.

DH: Would you say there was too much communication and not enough content?

  • 1 Alastair Campbell: Tony Blair’s director of communications and strategy. A former political editor (...)
  • 2 Peter Mandelson: A former current affairs television producer with London Weekend Television,he was (...)

JH: It’s hard to define. I don’t think it’s about too much or not enough content. It’s the fact that if you don’t understand the Conservative party or if you don’t understand politics, it’s just quite hard to be effective. I can’t quite describe it, but take Alastair Campbell 1 . Whatever his faults, he has been hugely influential and actually, I think, for a long time, extremely successful and very impressive, whatever one may think about him personally. Yes, he was a journalist but, first and foremost, he was a Labour man who wanted a Labour government and – he’s a very tribal man – he hated Tories, hates Tories and woke up every morning, thinking, “How can I smash the Tories? How can I get Labour in?” I think that’s very different. Journalists like stories, they know how the lobbies work and I think – this is a slightly different point – that the Tories’ problem, for a long time, has been that they think the answer to their long-term problems is the mechanics or the process of communication. They think, “If we get better at being more like Labour, doing more stuff like spinning, then we’ll win”, whereas – and this does come back to the point you made – I think, what they haven’t done is work out in any convincingway, for about fifteen years now, what kind of party they are, what it is that they’re trying to say to the British public about why they should vote for them. The Tories were dazzled by New Labour, what they did with the media, and Campbell, and Mandelson2, and spin. And for the last eight or nine years, they’ve been trying to catch up. They’ve been thinking, “If only we could find our own Alastair Campbell, then we’ll win the next election”, instead of wondering “Why did the voters turn away from us? How are we going to turn them back to us? How should we communicate this message? Who could we find to help us communicate it?” They’ve been obsessed by the process and not by the messages.

  • 3 The Journey: Party Election Broadcast directed by John Schlesinger (Midnight Cowboy) andbroadcast o (...)
  • 4 Meet John Major: Series of four television programmes recorded at different places from a largetran (...)
  • 5 Soap Box Tour: During the 1992 campaign, John Major held a series of meetings in shoppingcentres or (...)

DH: If we move on now to the campaign of 1992 – you’ve started to talk a bit about it already – how did you participate, and in which way, in the three highlights of the campaign, that is to say: The Journey3(the Party Election Broadcast), the Meet John Major programmes4and the Soap Box Tour5?

JH: As I said earlier, my main task was to put together some kind of programme for the Prime Minister because Central Office’s planning and assumption had been that there would be a national campaign of themes that they would do and John Major would just … some of them used the phrase that his role was simply to “provide wall paper”. He was to be “wall paper”.

DH: I read that he was quite reluctant to be “packaged”.

JH: He was never comfortable with that. Of the three things you talked about, he hated The Journey. He hated making it, absolutely hated it. He couldn’t bear to look at it, hated it. I thought it was actually quite good. He had always been seen as a fairly grey man and it did the trick in terms of trying…

DH: Isn’t there a paradox in the sense that he didn’t want to be “packaged” but he wanted to change his image because – as you said – he had this “grey image” and he wanted to change it? So he wanted to “re-package” himself, to a certain extent, didn’t he?

JH: Yes, you’re right. I think that is true. A lot of people, of course, may say, “I don’t want to be packaged” and then they don’t like what they read about themselves. And they say, “What do we do to change that?” So you’re right. I take your point. But I think it worked in terms of making him come across as a little bit more human than he got to be known as. The simple story of “here was a man from very humble beginnings who’s risen to be Prime Minister” communicated quite effectively. In most countries in the world, that would be quite an attractive message. Actually I think, with quite a lot of English people, it was. Perversely, with his own party, the Conservative party, based as it is, to a certain extent, on the class system and snobbery, it was not popular. A lot of Conservatives, rather than saying, “Gosh, good old John Major, he left school at 16, had no real educational achievements, went to night school, did this, did that, worked and ended up Prime Minister”, tended to think, “Ooh! Who’s this guy? He didn’t go to university…”. I thought it did communicate the positive message. But John Major didn’t like it because he thought the broadcast was playing on his background to his political advantage and he didn’t feel comfortable with that.

DH: And I know he wanted to protect his family.

JH: Oh yeah, all that.

DH: How was the director John Schlesinger contacted?

JH: I can’t remember.

DH: Was he known for his political sympathies as well?

JH: Yeah, I think he must have. But to be honest I can’t remember how he became involved. It was being made just as I was sort of starting to do more political stuff. I wasn’t involved in the earlier part of the process in terms of choosing Maurice Saatchi, for example. I simply can’t tell you any more, I’m afraid. The Meet John Majors worked on the day, they worked in themselves. As far as the media were concerned, they were a disaster, because the media thought, wrongly, that it was a handpicked audience and that the questions were all prepared.

DH: I read in John Major’s autobiography that the first broadcast took place in his own constituency, so he knew most of the people.

JH: Yes, that’s right. It was interesting. A brief detour on that: the debate about Meet John Major was that most people were saying, Central Office was saying, “It’s got to be really carefully scripted. We must know the questions in advance, we’ll write all the answers”. We ran a couple of prototypes which I went out to see and actually I was of the view that if you were going to do it, you might as well really go for it. He was always quite good at answering questions. He was better at answering questions than he was at speaking. So if you’re going to do it, just go for it. Don’t have it scripted. I would have quite liked them to have been open meetings for example.

DH: Isn’t that what John Major wanted?

JH: Yes I think he would have. And again you had the same situation when he had the soap box in the street. Everyone said, “You mustn’t do it. Don’t do it. Everything’s got to be very controlled”. In 1992, Labour, with Kinnock and Mandelson, had already started the process of becoming much more professional and controlled. Everything was image, image, image. Because they actually didn’t trust Kinnock not to say something stupid, they never allowed him out. Everything was press campaign. Everything was photos. So a lot of people were saying then, “Labour are very professional, very controlled, we’ve got to do the same. We can’t have one slip or we’ll be destroyed for the rest of the campaign. We can’t trust John Major not to make mistakes”. Actually I felt this was wrong, having spent a lot of time with John Major – and again this comes back to an earlier question you asked in passing – as my day job was running his campaign and running the battle bus, the bus that ran around the country. The rest of the day, when we got back, we were drafting speeches, press releases for the morning press conferences and dealing with the issues that came up: “What do we say about this? What do we say about that? What do we say about tax?”. But the nub of it was looking after him. What wasclear, very quickly to me, was that, given that he was known as being a grey and not very articulate man, our campaign was thought to be boring, and this was a fair criticism. The only time he came to life was when he was with people, when he had people heckling, shouting at him, pushing, when it was all a bit on the edge. And he liked that. It brought him to life. He spoke better. His voice became better. He was more relaxed. His voice became deeper. He became animated. So one of the things that we did fairly early on was throw out the window all the kind of pre-planned stuff and the whole approach set before the election by Central Office (“everything must be scripted, nothing must be left to chance”). The more it went on, the more risks that we took, because it worked better. And even the media that were with us could see the change that came over him. It did inject some excitement into him.

DH: What was the spin-off of this because it apparently worked well on the spot but what about the national level?

JH: There was a great dichotomy between what we and the media who were with us, as we went around the country, felt was the mood of the electorate, and what the national media – in London – were reporting. The chattering classes in London didn’t know what was going on on the tour in the country. They would never go out in the country. The conventional wisdom was that Labour were running a very slick, professional, modern, brilliant campaign: no chances, no slips, nothing. The Tory campaign looked shambolic. The national opinion polls were reflecting, three weeks into the campaign, that Labour were ahead. But on the campaign trail with Major, going all around the country, to constantly different places, the reception we were getting on the ground was very positive, friendly and warm. And you felt it getting better as the campaign went on. The press with us, I think, felt like writing it but all their stories were being spiked. They weren’t running in their newspapers because the agenda for the newspapers was being set back here and they’d made their mind up: “Labour campaign good”, “Tory campaign bad”, “let’s boot the Tories out”. And Central Office, who also didn’t know what was going on in the country, really, were talking to the national press. And the media down here were saying to them, “You’re doing very badly” and they would say, “Oh yes it is going very badly”. But we would come back from a day out in the campaign feeling very cheerful and optimistic and euphoric. It was a very good fun campaign. It was one of the nicest four weeks that I’ve had and Major was brilliant. Many times, things went wrong – all of us have our faults and failings – but during that period he was brilliant and it was huge fun. And we had a reallygood time. And we came back every evening, having had a really funny day and being in a good mood and read the newspapers for the next day, which said, “Tory campaign in trouble”, “Critics of the Prime Minister in Central Office today said ‘blah blah blah’”, “Labour campaign wonderful”. And we couldn’t reconcile what we were seeing and feeling with what we were reading. And ultimately of course, what we were picking up out there showed we were right and the national media were wrong. There was this split between what was written here and what it felt like out there. And it was also true there was criticism that we ripped up all the Central Office plans. But it worked in terms of making Major sound and feel confident – which is the key when you’re campaigning. I would have done whatever it took to make him feel at ease with his campaigning.

DH: I have a few other questions now about television: What do you think, as a man working in communication, about television and the way it is used by politicians – and mainly Party Election Broadcasts? What do you think of them? Are they useful?

JH: I don’t know… You ought to talk to people who’ve looked at that from a more statistical, psychological point of view than me.

DH: Were you not involved in the process of writing them?

JH: I ended up writing quite a lot of the Election Broadcasts that we made during the campaign. We were with John Major when he sat through them, all the ones that he did as a Prime Minister. I was quite heavily involved with them during the election campaign.

DH: Could you tell me a bit more about how they were written, about where the ideas came from, about how they were elaborated? Did you write the scripts for example?

JH: Sarah Hogg and I did a lot of the stuff together throughout the campaign. Sometimes she would do the first draft and I’d work on it, sometimes I would and she’d work on it.

DH: Did it start with broad ideas or precise ideas?

JH: To be honest I can’t remember. I know it sounds very unscientific. I’m sure if you wanted a contrast it’d be very interesting to talk to a Labour person about their process in 1997. In 1992, it was chaotic but I think election campaigns normally are. There weren’t many plans. But even if they had had all the plans written down, during electioncampaigns, things happen. A minister makes a remark about tax when you are proposing to be talking about defence, about transport. There’s nothing you can do. You have to go with the story. You just have to deal with it. Campaigns are always likely to be chaotic in that sense. You have to respond. I can’t remember if there was a plan for what the election broadcasts would cover, before the election. I can’t remember how many there were.

DH: There were five of them during the campaign.

JH: OK. You know more than me.

DH: Were they produced by Saatchi?

JH: I think they were. Or was it in 1997? Yes of course, they were in 1992 as well.

DH: Talking about the speeches delivered by John Major straight to the camera, were they improvised or carefully written by himself or by you?

JH: By me or Sarah. He would contribute.

DH: Were they learnt by heart?

JH: No, he used autocue with lots of takes – and this is the point about sort of planning chaos – one of the lessons for me of 1992 was that we put too much into his campaign, into his day. Everything ran late. You start each day with a press conference. It runs along okay. A problem blows up. You meet afterwards. You want to talk to people because you want to calm down after the adrenalin. So you’re late leaving. The aeroplane’s late going. You arrive somewhere where you’ve got too many individual items put into the programme, so you start running late. You start missing the media deadlines which we did a lot, which is unforgivable. You arrive back in London late. We would typically in 1992 stop the meetings at about six. The days were hectic. We met the PM at seven or seven thirty, then went off to do a pre-press briefing. We went back to Number Ten, often at half past ten or eleven because we were going to Newcastle, Cornwall or wherever and only got back at night, between half past ten and eleven. Then the PM might need to go to bed but there’d be some issues to deal with. We would often start writing stuff for the next day until two o’clock, half past two. But when you were recording something like those PEBs he would have to do that recording when we got back from the day out on thecampaign. So we’d often be doing them at eleven o’clock at night and he’d already been going for 14 hours or 16 hours.

DH: How many shots were there?

JH: Sometimes you’d be doing it eight, nine, ten times. He was his harshest critic. He was very hard with himself. You carry on, getting more and more tired and often, of course, the takes were getting worse and worse. But you had to do it then to show them on the next day. And one of the reasons why you are writing them up close to doing them is, of course, that they need to reflect what’s going on in the campaign. So you can’t really pre-write them.

DH: Would you change anything in party political broadcasting? Are you happy with it compared to the meetings for example?

  • 6 Political broadcast consisting mainly of a fixed close shot of a political figure (usually the part (...)

JH: You should talk to someone who knows more than I do about broadcasting and viewing figures, whether they have any impact. All I can say is that the normal argument about party election broadcasts is that, because you have a legal entitlement to them, you do them. There are always a lot of rumblings about doing them and people are always, in politics, sceptical about the impact that they have. You assume that most people don’t watch them. And if they do watch them, they don’t really affect them. But you’ve got to do them. We ended up doing “talking heads”6 because they are cheaper and actually easier to make. And we ended up using John Major more and more because, increasingly as the campaign went on, it was clear that he was the Tories’ best card, really. Whether they worked or not, I don’t know.

DH: And my final question is: what did you mean by “Too Close To Call”?

JH: “Too close to call” is just a saying, an English saying which I noticed Labour were using last week or the week before when they had the vote on university top fees which was going to be very close. And so, when people said to them, “Who do you think is going to win?”, they would answer, “Oh, it’s too close to call”. We called it “Too Close To Call” because for that election, until late on, most people thought it was “too close to call” the result. In horse racing or sporting contests, “to call” means “to predict the ending”. Most people thought the Tories would lose.

DH: Well, I thank you very much. Goodbye.

JH: Goodbye.

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1 Alastair Campbell: Tony Blair’s director of communications and strategy. A former political editor of the Daily Mirror and former adviser to Neil Kinnock, he started working with Tony Blair after he was elected Labour leader in 1994 and became the prime minister’s official spokesman after Labour’s election victory in 1997. In 2001 he moved to his role as communications director and is thought to have been highly influential on the Prime Minister’s policy making and communication strategy. This earned him the nicknames of “real deputy prime minister” (< >, website visited on 30th April 2004) or “Napoleon of Spin” (The Economist, 6th July 2000). He resigned in September 2003 and was succeeded by David Hill, Labour’s communications chief in the 1997 general election and former press aide to ex-Labour deputy leader Roy Hattersley. See < > last visited on 30th April 2004 and The Guardian Weekly, 3-9 July 2003, p. 8.

2 Peter Mandelson: A former current affairs television producer with London Weekend Television,he was Labour’s Director of Campaigns and Communications from 1985 to 1990 and served as Labour’s election campaign director in 1997. In 1992 he was elected Member of Parliament for Hartlepool (County Durham) and was Minister without portfolio in the Cabinet Office with responsibility for the Millennium Dome (1998), Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (between July and December 1998) and Northern Ireland Secretary (from October 1999 to January 2001). He has had a large influence in changing the party’s attitude regarding political communication. See < > last visited on 29th April 2004 and Dennis Kavanagh, Election Campaigning: The New Marketing of Politics, Oxford: Blackwell, 1995, pp. 91-92.

3 The Journey: Party Election Broadcast directed by John Schlesinger (Midnight Cowboy) andbroadcast on 18th March 1992. The 10-minute broadcast illustrates John Major’s personal and political “journey” from his childhood in South London to his appointment as Prime Minister.

4 Meet John Major: Series of four television programmes recorded at different places from a largetransportable stage set. Sitting on a bar-stool and addressing an invited audience, John Major was to answer unscripted questions in front of television cameras. The first programme took place on 15th March 1992. See David Butler, Dennis Kavanagh, The British Election of 1992, Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1992, pp. 102 and 130; See Dennis Kavanagh, Election Campaigning: The New Marketing of Politics, op. cit., pp. 73 and 245.

5 Soap Box Tour: During the 1992 campaign, John Major held a series of meetings in shoppingcentres or in the street where he addressed the crowd standing on a wooden box specially designed for that purpose. See David Butler, Dennis Kavanagh, The British Election of 1992, op. cit., p. 124.

6 Political broadcast consisting mainly of a fixed close shot of a political figure (usually the party leader) talking direct to camera.

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David Haigron et Jonathan Hill, « Interview with Jonathan Hill, Political Secretary to John Major: “A Journey into Political Communication” »Revue LISA/LISA e-journal [En ligne], Média, culture, histoire, mis en ligne le 01 mars 2004, consulté le 17 avril 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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David Haigron

(Le Mans, France)
David Haigron teaches at the University of Le Mans. He is preparing a PhD on the Party Election and Political Broadcasts produced by the British Conservative Party from 1951 to 1997. This interview was carried out on Wednesday 18th February 2004 at the offices of Quiller Consultants, 11/12 Buckingham Gate, in London.

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Jonathan Hill

Jonathan Hill was John Major’s political secretary during the 1992 general election campaign. He had previously worked as a special adviser for Kenneth Clarke from 1986 to 1989 and, in February 1991, he became a member of the Number Ten Policy Unit, headed by Sarah Hogg. In 1992, he became political secretary. He left Downing Street in 1994 but he came back the following year to advise the Prime Minister during the 1995 party leadership contest and again for the 1997 general election campaign. In 1995, in collaboration with Sarah Hogg, he published a book on the 1992 campaign: Too Close To Call. Power and Politics: John Major in Number Ten (London: Little, Brown and Company, 1995, 305 p.). He now works at Quiller Consultants.

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