Anthony Hilton: Just admit when you are wrong

It is ironic that many of those who are vociferous about the merits of the free market and how business will always do better if Government keeps out of the way tend to be very bad at leaving things alone themselves.

Anthony Hilton: Just admit when you are wrong
Anthony Hilton: Just admit when you are wrong

First the Conservative-led Government loses no opportunity to say that the state should not interfere in business - while making an exception for the banking sector. Then it embarks on a plan to reform the biggest economic entity in the country, the NHS, not incrementally but by turning the whole thing on its head. The result has been greeted with varying degrees of horror as people realise that the Health Secretary is serious.

Neither can they leave things alone in the private sector. Xtrata is one of the world's most successful mining groups. Glencore is a trader specialising in metals and commodities. Culturally they are chalk and cheese. Mick Davis and Ivan Glasenberg, its two leaders, are as red-blooded free marketers as you will find. No matter - they have decided they should merge.

I would be willing to bet both these projects will eventually be abandoned, though not before we have had many months of bluster from their architects that everything is on course. What is interesting, though, is how different the comms challenges will be when it comes to handling the U-turns. Governments are terrible at admitting they have made a mistake and it often seems they would rather march on over a cliff than undertake a dreaded U-turn. That means for PR reasons they have to have a scapegoat on whom all the blame can be heaped. This being the case Andrew Lansley will be lucky to hold on to his job as Health Secretary.

Glencore and Xtrata will find that in business it is so much easier. When Prudential abandoned its disastrous attempt to buy the Asian Interests of AIG after six months of effort, chairman Harvey McGrath and chief executive Tidjane Thiam both held on to their jobs. They just blamed the markets, regulators and shareholders.

It's odd, though, how no-one ever uses the most disarming comms strategy of all: simply admitting you got it wrong.

Anthony Hilton, City commentator on London's Evening Standard

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