OPINION: The Prince of Darkness is prize PR chump

Who do you think is the emptiest PR vessel in the Government? I'll bet most of you immediately thought of Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, who has so many more gaffes than Jags to his name that his civil service press chief actually ditched him as a hopeless case. What about Lord Macdonald, who has been brought in to sort out Mr Prescott's self-induced rail mess?

Who do you think is the emptiest PR vessel in the Government? I'll bet most of you immediately thought of Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, who has so many more gaffes than Jags to his name that his civil service press chief actually ditched him as a hopeless case. What about Lord Macdonald, who has been brought in to sort out Mr Prescott's self-induced rail mess?

Last week he asked 'Rail crisis? What crisis?' as I was experiencing two 15-hour return trips to Yorkshire.

Mr Blair himself? Well, he's the chap supposedly in charge and he consistently stretches his credibility. Last week he was savaged by the press - left and right - before the Euro-summit in Nice, for his empty legislative programme that gives priority to banning fox hunting. What else did he expect, given Britain's problems with floods, the railways, crime and the NHS? Mr Blair must also be a serious candidate for the empty PR vessel award for continuing to support the Alastair Campbell PR machine which has destroyed trust in his government in record time.

But for me the prize PR chump is none other than Peter Mandelson who is held in the sort of esteem Lord Carrington once had for Al Haig, the US Secretary of State of Falklands vintage. The noble lord called Al a 'duplicitous bastard'. Mr Mandelson is, of course, an architect of Labour's failed PR machine. He is generally credited with rubbishing independent-minded journalists to their editors, which is not a wise thing to do longer term. As a minister, he has a unique capacity to stir up angst among his peers. The Sun has noted his propensity for undermining fellow ministers whose job(s) he covets. Last week, surprise surprise, we learned of his ambition to become Minister of Transport with a seat in Cabinet, unlike Lord Macdonald.

This led ex-Defence Minister Peter Kilfoyle to criticise his 'freelance' activities and to tell him to stop meddling in other ministers' affairs.

Events proved that Mr Mandelson is deaf as well as daft. First, he charged into the EU debate from his beleaguered outpost in Northern Ireland by saying the idea of a unified European state is 'dead'. If you believe that, you'll believe anything. Martin McGuinness then described him as a 'peace wrecker' and 'political disaster', which shows how universally he is distrusted.

Then he partly blamed Margaret Thatcher for road rage, the yob culture and bosses who shout at their employees, which is going it a bit, even for those who think she invented original sin. And finally, all in one week, he was identified as the chap who told journalists - unattributably, of course - that George Bush Jr has 'no interest' in Ulster and is briefed by Sinn Fein sympathisers. The press promptly wrote him off as Foreign Secretary and political head of our diplomatic service.

The Government's emptiest PR vessel is clearly sinking.



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