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
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.