PR’s realistic expectations for the summit season.

’Did you ask how many jobs this will create’, Alastair Campbell, No 10’s chief press secretary, rhetorically asked at the recent Euro-summit shambles in Amsterdam. ’Eight,’ he replied, dismissively, displaying the usual British ambivalence toward summitry which reached its seasonal height this week at the so-called economic and ’green’ festivals in Denver and New York.

’Did you ask how many jobs this will create’, Alastair Campbell, No

10’s chief press secretary, rhetorically asked at the recent Euro-summit

shambles in Amsterdam. ’Eight,’ he replied, dismissively, displaying the

usual British ambivalence toward summitry which reached its seasonal

height this week at the so-called economic and ’green’ festivals in

Denver and New York.



We are hopelessly mixed-up kids when it comes to summits. We take them

extraordinarily seriously while at the same time sneering at them like

Mr Campbell. And we so abhor the razzmatazz, junketing and ’freebies’

that, not for the first time in British history, Mr Campbell is

promising future austerity if the Brits have anything to do with it.



He’ll be lucky. Next year we host the 25th economic (G8) summit in

Birmingham.



It will, however, be a blessing if we do not offload a job lot of

suitcases, complete with trolley, as the Dutch did last week, on to the

3,200 duly registered and screened camp followers, otherwise known as

journalists.



In short, the PR of summitry is complex. Every host country wants to

have a success on its soil. For the earnest British that primarily means

something that will change Europe, the Commonwealth or the world. Yet

the best we can hope for is halting progress towards, for example, the

goal of a less polluted atmosphere. Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan

swung the global emphasis away from spending to economic prudence in the

1980s. But interpreting the smile on the face of the Sphinx was easier

than persuading the Japanese to do anything about their huge trade

surplus.



Euro-summits have so far been a curious combination of Persian bazaar,

all-in wrestling convention and Brit bashing. Similarly, the new and old

Commonwealths - ie the black and white - gang up at Commonwealth summits

against us to shell out more ’development’ brass or do more to curb

their ’exploitation’ by multinationals. This solidarity with their

black, brown and yellow brethren makes the old white Commonwealth feel

virtuous. ’Green’ summits are largely exercises in sustained

hypocrisy.



There is thus only one sensible way for a No 10 press secretary to treat

summits. Never excite expectations. Take whatever credit you credibly

can. Always expect Britain to be blamed - if blame is required. Don’t

encourage stunts such as bicycle races by summiteers as at Amsterdam or

excessive informality like Wild West Sunday evenings in Colorado. Do

what you can to discourage ’freebies’ without appearing to be

parsimonious.



But never underestimate the capacity of summits to create jobs. They are

a growth industry. Whether they generate useful jobs is another matter.



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