What links Britain’s procedural war with Europe over beef and the new
Lord Chief Justice, Sir Thomas Bingham? Answer: crisis PR. Both are
examples of the dire straits which PR companies are so often asked to
sort out. So let’s sort them out, if only in our own minds.
Mr Major’s obstructive campaign in Europe - until, I trust, British beef
exports to the world are unblocked - has long been breeding. It is the
bitter fruit of our exasperation with Europe whether over the federalist
juggernaut, interference from Euro-courts or Brussels’ bureaucrats or
Most Britons are fed up to the gills with Europe. They feel they have
been misled over what they joined in 1973. So now John Major,
complaining of bad faith over beef, has blown up. Interestingly that
great Euro-handbagger, Margaret Thatcher, never quite detonated.
It is all very well for superior Europhiles to tut tut about it. But an
eventual Euro-explosion was inevitable. Worse still, the big bang has
come over a health issue where rationality is at a premium.
There is no proven link between BSE and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in
humans. The incidence of mad cow disease is plummeting and there is no
evidence that CJD’s is rising. Indeed, the chances of contracting CJD -
or, for that matter, meningitis in Majorca, the week’s other health
crisis - are much less than being killed or maimed in a road accident.
Yet Europe has banned the export of British beef to the world and the
Majorcan authorities are under siege.
Even though we are living longer than ever, public health is a PR
disaster area, thanks to a sensationalist media, an overwhelming
ignorance of risk and an implied view that by now science should have
eliminated any possibility of death from disease below the age of 90.
I can think of no more urgent PR task in a western world paranoid about
health and food than to educate the public about relative risks. Our
present irrationality is a fiendishly expensive state to be in. So is
the current stand-off between Government and judiciary.
The new Lord Chief Justice knows that, as with Europe, public
dissatisfaction with the judiciary has long been fomenting. It stems
partly from a minority of lenient sentences which persuade people that
the Bench is hopelessly out of touch and partly from an incredibly
liberal criminal justice system.
Ergo, Sir Thomas faces a PR crisis just as surely Europe does. Neither
will be cooled until a certain rationality prevails. Which raises the
question as to why PROs don’t redefine themselves as ‘bringers of
rationality’? What a noble thought.