Rude Brits: Queen and David Cameron's undiplomatic gaffes hit headlines

Indiscreet private remarks by Queen Elizabeth and UK Prime Minister David Cameron about China, Afghanistan and Nigeria are unlikely to cause major long-term damage, but the way they have been today reported illustrate wider issues.

The Queen: Time to say sorry? (Credit: Danny Lawson/PA Wire/Press Association Images)
The Queen: Time to say sorry? (Credit: Danny Lawson/PA Wire/Press Association Images)

David Cameron was overheard yesterday commenting in conversation with the monarch that Nigeria and Afghanistan were "fantastically corrupt" – ahead of an anti-corruption conference in London today that the countries' leaders are set to attend.

Separately, the Queen was filmed telling a police officer outside Buckingham Palace yesterday that Chinese officials had been "very rude" during a state visit by President Xi Jinping last year.

The two sets of comments feature on a number of UK newspapers' front pages today.

PR professionals told PRWeek UK that although embarrassing, these remarks were not likely to cause long-term damage – and might actually improve the monarch and her Prime Minister's standing in the UK.

Alan VanderMolen, the former Edelman executive who joined WE Communications as APAC-EMEA president in March, said that the ongoing political campaign of outspoken US presidential hopeful Donald Trump had made it more likely that these sorts of comments would be amplified in the media.

"I think that the global context of what is defined as an inflammatory comment has massively changed in the past six months thanks to the US presidential contest, and I think that is now spilling over into the media reporting," he said.

Nonetheless, he said that these remarks would not be likely to go further than "being confined to a one-day story", and added: "I expect some ‘terribly sorry’ apologies will be delivered today."

Chris Rumfitt, founder of London's Field Consulting, said his first reaction was that the Queen's remark was amusing.

"Clearly from a diplomatic point of view, in particular with China, it’s obviously not the done thing, but to be honest I would suggest the British public will quite like to hear that the Queen thinks like other people, that if someone is rude, she says so," he said.

Rumfitt added that people in the UK would understand both sets of remarks were "intended as private comments" and would like to see the PM and Queen "showing themselves as human beings with human opinions". He concluded: "It’s unfortunate, but I’m sure there’s no long-term harm done."

Hamish Thompson, MD of Houston PR, also in London, said the reporting of the comments was symbolic of wider issues of the UK's place in the world in the run-up to the election on its membership of the EU, suggesting it was a "glimpse of the consequences of diminishing influence".

He said: "Normally I think this sort of thing would wash away fairly swiftly, but it feels metaphoric. It’s hard not to see both through the lens of wider events. The biggest political skirmishes of our time are about isolationism versus engagement, elitism versus collective responsibility."

Thompson also expressed a degree of sympathy with the pair, saying: "I think this sort of thing is almost unavoidable. None of us would want everything we say shared with the wider world – and leaders are hardly ever more than a couple of feet from a microphone."

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