OPINION: Fight pressure groups on their own terms

Three mighty cheers for Jonathan Rush, a director of Positive Profile.

Three mighty cheers for Jonathan Rush, a director of Positive


He’s a man after my own heart. None of your softly, softly, let’s

compromise approaches to pressure groups. Let’s tell the truth as we see

it and argue our clients’ case as passionately as the campaigners do. If

only there were more Rushes around, society wouldn’t get bogged down in

fruitless accommodations wasting millions.

In a letter in this newspaper of 7 October, he wrote: ’We do them

(clients) a disservice by pretending the only option is to compromise

with these groups. Robust opinions and arguments delivered to

opinion-forming audiences may well be more effective in the long term.’

I write as one who spent half his working life battling with pressure

groups on behalf of governments and is now vice president of one,

Country Guardian, fighting the threat of wind farms to our unspoiled

hills, and secretary to the recently formed and entirely unconnected

Supporters of Nuclear Energy. One of the features of the past 30 years

has been the almost exponential growth of of single-issue pressure

groups, many of which seem to be established in the expectation, not

just hope, of a generous dollop of public funds. They have one thing in

common: they are primarily PR outfits which, through publicity, aim to

distort public policy.

Not all are bad by any means - indeed, they represent a healthy

democracy in action - but not all are on the side of the angels.

Greenpeace’s performance over Shell’s plans to sink the Brent Spar

platform in the ocean - widely seen as the best environmental option -

was a disgrace. The anti-nuclear campaign has seldom covered itself in

glory because of its exploitation of public ignorance. But the merits or

demerits of individual campaigns are by the way.

What matters is Mr Rush’s point about the dangers of compromising with

pressure groups or, worse still, abdicating the field to them. The worst

of them regard compromise as the old-fashioned militant shop steward

did: open encouragement to up their demands. They are at best difficult

to satisfy and at worst insatiable. As for ignoring them in the hope

that they will go away, let the nuclear industry be a warning to you. It

has not entirely ignored what I regard as a largely unprincipled

campaign against it. But it has never met the campaigners’ arguments

vigorously head on. It has, in fact, an aversion to the sordid business

of campaigning.

The result is that taxpayers have had to fork out hundreds of millions

to reduce discharges which, on independent assessment, would bring

unbelievably derisory environmental improvements. And the industry is

now saddled with the popular notion that it is uneconomic, even though

it is the only practical and tested means of combatting global warming.

Mr Rush is right: compromise is not the only option.

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