On the eve of the final Conservative leadership ballot, Chris Whitehouse, founder and chairman of The Whitehouse Consultancy published a LinkedIn post (below) that questioned Boris Johnson’s suitability for office.
It said: "Short of dying or publicly losing his sanity, or raping a member of the Royal Family, that means Boris Johnson is heading to 10 Downing Street. Is that good or bad?"
Becca Wright, a public affairs professional who works for a major food manufacturer, shared the post on Twitter after becoming frustrated no one had criticised the language used in the post.
Logged onto the other hell website [LinkedIn] - pretty grim to see the MD of a prominent public affairs agency using "Boris raping a member of the Royal Family" as a punchline of the only thing that would stop him becoming PM. Keen to hear thoughts @WomenInPA?— Becca Wright (@_beccawright) June 23, 2019
Later she added: "I think across the industry we’ve been conditioned to not be shocked when hearing unnecessary or violent language when using political analogies. I think violent language has crept into political discourse over the last few years and has made everyone immune."
Wright said that clients can vote with their feet but it would be disappointing if the body charged with upholding ethics and high standards didn't extend to all forms of communication personal or otherwise.
Laura Sainsbury, chair of Women in PA, said it was frustrating to have to discuss the use of this sort of language in the industry after last week writing about how sexual harassment is damaging the industry, and this week seeing how the treatment of women by Tory MPs was discussed in the media.
"Language in politics is very important", she added.
Another public affairs luminary Emily Wallace, a partner at Omnicom's GPlus, told PRWeek: "Normalising rape in this way is offensive and provocative, Cllr Whitehouse clearly has more in common with the dinosaurs on the Isle of Wight that he does with the modern world."
Whitehouse described concerns about his use of language as "bloody ridiculous". He said it was an expression of frustration and anger at a situation were a Prime Minister could be elected by a small constituency so intensely committed to one man who isn't fit to hold office.
He added: "This is no way to run a democracy, and I have been consistent in that in all my postings."
PRWeek learned that Liam Herbert, chief executive of Helgate Limited and executive committee member of the PRCA Public Affairs Board, has made an official complaint.
"The reasons for my complaint are very clear and I am sure that any reasonable person reading Mr Whitehouse’s comments would agree with my criticism. I have confidence that the independent PRCA investigation process will reach an appropriate conclusion on this rather unfortunate matter."
A spokesman for the PRCA said: "We can confirm that we have received a complaint against Chris Whitehouse. He has been notified of this. We will now begin the formal process set out in the PRCA Professional Charter."
On hearing that a complaint had been made, Whitehouse said he thought it was hypocritical that a man who had worked with Imperial Tobacco should preach to others about ethical and professional standards.
"His very membership of the PRCA brings it and the wider profession into complete disrepute," he added.