For much of the last three years I have had one recurring
nightmare. It is that the PR industry would come to regard New Labour’s
way of doing our business not only as fashionable, but as the norm. I
have taken every opportunity to warn against what I believed to be
And then, come the millennium, I began to have fewer disturbed
The first six months of this new century have exposed the new regime’s
PR limitations as it has stumbled.
In one sense, it is amazing that this transformation has occurred. After
all, overall inflation is historically low, unemployment continues to
fall, house prices are buoyant and prosperity is high. What’s more,
Chancellor Gordon Brown is not overtly damaging the economy, though he
is taxing us more and spending more. On this basis everything should be
just fine and dandy for the Government. Labour should be winning every
credit for having demonstrably swapped its old profligacy for a new
But it isn’t. Leave aside the ludicrous poll-ing effects of the Blairs’
baby, Leo, William Hague, previously written off as a dud, is closing
the gap and the Prime Minister’s unprecedented popularity with the
electors has melted away to next to nothing. As Labour MPs worry over
their party losing the electorate, the Government thrashes around,
chucking cash denominated in telephone numbers at education, health and
transport and strives to regain its egalitarian credentials with the
Chancellor’s misjudged attack on Oxford’s ’elitism’.
The change has occurred not, curiously, because the media generally have
revolted, as they should have done a long time ago, against Labour’s
media management. They remain astonishingly quiescent in the face of
Alastair Campbell’s cynical brand of favouritism and opportunism.
Instead, what has gone wrong is the Government’s PR. It has never
recovered from the mess of the new year’s eve launch of the Dome, which
is seen by so many to symbolise the Government’s brittle
pretentiousness. Since then, it is the manner of its governance, rather
than its halting performance which has come under fire.
There are broadly two complaints which are summed up in the word
’arrogant’: namely, that it is taking its core supporters for granted;
and its apparent belief that every problem can be finessed and
manipulated away by endless initiatives. These impressions are not just
the product of panic over a seeming inability to do anything right which
all governments experience.
They have consistently tried to build a reputation on short-term
It is a fundamental and unprofessional failure. So New Labour has turned
out not to be the model for a new PR, but a lesson in how not to do
My nightmare is over. The Government’s is just beginning.