Just as one high-flying foreign trouble-shooter brought in by New
Labour reflected that with friends like Tony Blair and his Government
you don't really need enemies, so did another.
First Frenchman Pierre-Yves Gerbeau - brought in with more than a twist
of news management to save the Dome - was bemoaning his treatment to
various papers. Then American Bob Kiley - brought in in similar
circumstances to save London's troubled Tube - found himself doing the
same to a wider audience.
There the similarities end. Whereas Gerbeau saw through his project
before becoming disgruntled, Kiley was from the start stifled in trying
to make a difference before being abruptly shunted off stage.
This was never going to be a marriage made in heaven. Kiley's background
as the saviour of the New York subway has given him a reputation as the
world's most successful transport manager. And he was always opposed to
the Government's plans for a public-private-partnership, under which
tube lines are maintained by private contractors while train services
remained under public control.
The former CIA officer makes a curious ally for a man with a distinctly
redder past - London mayor Ken Livingstone. Yet it was Livingstone who
lured Kiley to London in May.
As Kiley's relationship with Blair crumbled, he became more closely
linked with the mayor. Both men regard PPP as dangerous and expensive,
requiring huge levels of public subsidy. Until a month ago, there was a
chance of overcoming differences. But that hope evaporated when Kiley
said talks with PPP bidders were deadlocked and urged the Government to
ditch its scheme. In a rare example of arguments over public policy
uniting those across the political divide, media of all hues have lined
up behind Kiley and Livingstone.
Government PR staff are since reported to have gone into overdrive -
particularly chancellor Gordon Brown's press team, anxious to keep Brown
away from the growing mess.
Goodwill has not been much in evidence since Kiley was toppled as London
Transport chairman (he retains the less powerful role of
When word got out that Kiley was to publish a report attacking PPP, he
was sacked as chairman and an injunction swiftly imposed to stop him
revealing the report's contents. Kiley muttered darkly about a
The sides next met in the High Court, which rejected Livingstone's
challenge to block the PPP, but the PR initiative was moving further
towards Livingstone and Kiley. Almost 300 protestors gathered outside
court to cheer on the defenders of a publicly-funded tube.
The Times transport correspondent Ben Webster recalls sitting behind the
pair in court: 'Kiley and Ken were shoulder to shoulder, even though
they didn't need to be there. It was astute and gave the impression they
were trying to secure justice.' The next day's press was almost entirely
favourable to their cause.
Had the prospect of a legal victory blinded the Government to the battle
for hearts and minds? Litigation PR specialist and Weber Shandwick Legal
MD Jon McLeod thinks not. He points out that Livingstone never had a
credible chance of winning the case and would inevitably benefit in
public opinion terms by evoking memories of wide-scale public investment
in the transport system.
'The Government, on the other hand, had to be fairly minimalist as they
would always be the big bad wolf in the drama,' says McLeod.
And while Livingstone's strategy would appear faultless, McLeod believes
he became 'bogged down' in safety issues and could have made more of the
democratic mandate he received in last year's London mayoral election to
run the transport system.
Webster is not convinced: 'Livingstone has handled it brilliantly. He
knew if it was just left to him to keep talking about public investment
people would ask if this was Red Ken speaking.'
Joy Johnson, the Greater London Authority head of media relations, takes
a different line, pointing out that the democratic arguments have been
well aired by high-profile newspaper columnists in the nationals.
'Looking at the cuttings, it's clear almost everyone shares our view -
precisely because we're speaking the truth,' she says.
A day after the bid to block PPP failed, a High Court judge lifted the
injunction on revealing the contents of the reports into PPP and
criticised London Underground for trying to ban it. The only thing that
stopped Kiley and Livingstone gleefully going public with the report was
a further 21 day ban, as the Government appeals against the
It raises the prospect of further PR humiliations for Blair - especially
as many observers believe Kiley has no intention of quietly packing up
and standing down as transport commissioner.
'I think Kiley will stay,' says Webster. 'When you hear an American
voice in these reasoned and sober terms, it's easy to be seduced. I
don't think he'll jump at every opportunity to attack the PPP - he'll
choose his moments and the next one will be when we get the report.'
The saga certainly isn't over yet, but as the legal stage of proceedings
seems to have come to an end, the pair who have positioned themselves as
public-spirited questers after safety have emerged strengthened, despite
taking a pounding in the courts.