OPINION: Stormy waters ahead for the Government

Now is the time for all good strategic PR men to come to the aid of the party. I refer to the most presentationally-conscious government we have known now fighting on so many fronts it's probably forgotten what some of them are.

Now is the time for all good strategic PR men to come to the aid of the party. I refer to the most presentationally-conscious government we have known now fighting on so many fronts it's probably forgotten what some of them are.

Let me give you what I don't pretend to be an exhaustive list: the weather - gales and the worst floods for a century; global warming and the prospect that the world effort to combat it will grind to a halt in The Hague next week; the threatened onset of the decisive stage in a disruptive campaign against petrol taxation; the countryside up in arms, with many diverse interests combining for its protection; hunting; pensions; the Dome; the certainty of NHS problems this winter, according to the Health Minister; and now educational standards with the resignation (to a tremendous gloat from the Left and teachers' unions) of Chris Woodhead, Chief Inspector of Schools.

All this is happening towards the end of a bad year for the Government and almost certainly within 12 and possibly even six months of an election, depending on how the Government emerges from the winter. This is not good strategic PR management. Indeed, it is abysmal. And the fact that the Tories are pretty grim at it too, what with incompetence over cannabis and public rowing by leak over Thatcherite purity, is no excuse. It is governments which lose elections, not oppositions which win them.

The Government cannot, of course, order the weather, whatever some Greens may pretend, or do anything immediately to halt global warming. But all governments know - or should know - that the ship of state sails in such chronically rough waters that it is most unwise to allow a whole catalogue of problems to build up in the engine-room. Yet, weather apart, the rest of its current crop of travail is Blair-made or susceptible to Blair-alleviation.

This week's autumn statement from the Chancellor may apply balm to some of them. But all the evidence suggests that the Government's presentation is now seriously out of sync with its political objectives.

What is worse is that some ministers - notably the Prime Minister and Home Secretary - seem to have been going out of their way to stoke up trouble with the fuel protestors by strutting their tough stuff and publicly blackening the demo leaders. This raises the serious question as to whether, for all its PR obsessions, the Government has any strategic sense at all.

I think we are entitled to ask this question after Peter Mandleson's admission that the Government has over-sold itself.

Certainly, if there is one conclusion to be drawn from the period since May 1997 it is that spin doctoring, far from sustaining this government in office, has undermined it. Someone once said that Harold Wilson was 'all brain and no bloody judgement'. I'm afraid this government is all tactics and no PR strategy.



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