My fervent wish for the new year, new century and new millennium is
that British PR improves. It has had a distinctly ropey start if you
ignore Mike and Fiona Thornewill and Catherine Hartley who became the
first married couple to reach either geographical pole and the first
women to walk to the South Pole. What’s more they did it almost bang on
cue. Just three days adrift from the dawn of the Y2K. Not bad for
amateurs on a 730-mile epic tramp.
Just think of the flu, the millennium bug that never was, the Dome and
Tesco and you’ll see what I mean. Why is it, when we know winter is the
grim reaper, that the NHS regularly allows itself to become the hapless,
frantic, crisis victim of a flu epidemic? Year after year we find it
muddling messily through when it is surely not beyond the wit of man to
devise a contingency plan for coping sympathetically and impressively
with a surge of business? It would be better than being accused of
taking old folk on long and fatal cross-country drives in search of
intensive care beds.
I find it impossible to believe that we were not taken for a pounds 35
billion ride by the computer buffs when there doesn’t seem to have been
even the trace of a malevolent millennium bug. Something would have gone
wrong somewhere if there had been a real, rather than a hyped problem.
With a global bill of pounds 400 billion, this must go down as the most
expensive in the whole gamut of ’cry wolf’ operations. A lot of people
are feeling ripped off.
But it is when you come to the Dome and Tesco that things get really
depressing. With a pounds 750 million price tag and confusion over its
purpose - the religious nature of the millennium meant it could never be
a tremendous fun fair - it was on a hiding to nothing. That being so,
our media-obsessed Government with its supposed genius for presentation
should have known a damn sight better than to channel the proles through
Stratford while the ministerial elite took the short Jubilee line route,
muck up the distribution of opening night tickets and have precious,
self-regarding editors queuing for them. It was just asking for trouble
and everyone, including the Dome, has got it.
Then take Tesco. Within 24 hours of telling us it was banning fruit and
vegetables grown on land which had previously been host to GM crops from
its shelves, it was back-pedalling like mad. ’Ah yes,’ journalists were
told, ’what we really meant was that there would have to be a year lying
fallow in between.’ For heaven’s sake, didn’t they know what they were
doing? Or were they got at by the Government’s GM Communications Unit,
known affectionately in the trade as the GM Spin Unit? We should be
Otherwise PR is going to get a very bad name.