Two stinks excite my attention this week. They are those caused by
Prince Edward, and the taxpayers’ pounds 1 million a month bill for Tony
Blair’s attachment to public opinion polling.
Let’s dispose of the Royal stink first. It was pretty crass of the
Prince to complain publicly about the British ’hating anyone who
succeeds’. One can only suppose that he never consulted his wife Sophie,
the PRO, otherwise she would have reminded him that it is unwise to run
down your country abroad, especially when the UK has the impression
that, far from being a successful businessman yourself, you are a steady
Eddie loser. But, if you are disposed to be frank, then for heaven’s
sake don’t be so daft as to blurt out the awful truth.
This was the Prince’s real error. Unlike the US, the UK is very
comfortable with success and appallingly inconsistent about it. Indeed,
you could argue that governments right across Europe are past masters at
handicapping ability, stifling initiative, penalising success and
levelling down. Ask all those small firms who are being strangled by
regulation. And what about all those businessmen who keep the nation
afloat and millions employed?
Pay them a fraction of what footballers and pop stars can command and
they’re reviled as fat cats. ’Hatred’ is most certainly not too strong a
word to use to describe attitudes towards them. But for God’s sake don’t
say so abroad - certainly not if you are royalty.
Naive Prince Edward was too honest for his own good. Entirely the
opposite is true of our Government’s free use of opinion polling and
focus groups at taxpayers’ expense while keeping two-thirds of the
It has spent at least pounds 22 million on polling since the election,
according to information dragged out of nine departments by Don Foster,
the Liberal Democrat MP. Seven others refused to reveal their spending.
So much for open government. And so much, too, for the rights of
It is perfectly proper for governments to use polling to establish facts
and to test-market legitimate publicity campaigns. But it is entirely
wrong for them to use public money to finance political research. As Bob
Worcester, the MORI pollster, told the Sun: ’If these probes are at
taxpayers’ expense, they should contain nothing political and be
available to taxpayers.
If not, the party should pay’. Frankly I despair of the civil service
these days as a bulwark between an opportunity Government and those who
foot the bill. Worse still, the Select Committee on Public
Administration is, in my experience, just Mr Blair’s lap dog. The public
Accounts Committee, under David Davis MP, should move in fast before the
public shells out another misapplied, misspent and misbegotten bean.
This is a real stinker and it stinks even more that it took a Liberal
Democrat and not a member of the official Opposition to unearth it.