Buried away recently at the bottom of page 12 of the Daily
Telegraph - the sort of place where they inter corrections which have no
threat of libel attached to them - I found a summary of research
conducted for the campaign to save the pound which should make every PR
person sit bolt upright and think very hard.
The people polled believed that in 1899, Britain stood for strength,
authority, family values and a bulldog spirit ’imbued with pride in the
country and the force to be reckoned with in the world’. Now they see
Britain as lacking in principles and sincerity. The archetypal image is
of ’a mendacious marketing man in a casual suit with liberal values and
a willingness to talk about anything you want to hear’. In other words,
we don’t think we stand for anything any more; we just go with the
politically correct tide.
This is not entirely fair. Tony Blair stood for something in Kosovo and
our military show they are still the force to be reckoned with. Indeed,
it is probably true to say that without Britain, the Serbs would still
be hoovering Kosovo clean of ethnic Albanians. But you can see those
polled have a point when Mr Blair ducks and weaves over leading the
pro-euro campaign after his Euro-elections reverse and falls out of and
back in love again with the public sector, depending on which day of the
week it is.
You can also see where the public get their ideas from when Clare Short,
for example, is thought to be a loose cannon, even though she usually
talks common sense, and when Howard Flight, a newcomer to the Tory front
bench, is blasted for stating the obvious: that our relationship with
the EU would have to change if we rejected the single currency.
Britain has been blanded, give or take a Short/Flight or two, into a
mendacious marketeer who says what he or she thinks you want to
And who has had a hand in all this? Who has helped persuade the body
politic - and any other body you can think of - that image, perception
and appearances count? Who has encouraged potential clients to believe
that it’s who you know and access to them that really matter - the very
point at the root of the lobbyist/apparatchik scandal of a year ago? The
uncomfortable answer is that it is our PR trade.
Of course, all the sins of the world cannot be laid at PR’s door. But we
have much to answer for if we are professionally more concerned with
what it looks like than what it really is.
I predict that some of us are going to have to change our ways. Just as
the reaction to Margaret Thatcher was a yearning for emollients and
compassion - oil and sobbing - so Mr Blair’s legacy will be an
irresistible demand for weight, substance and constancy, and to hell