Opinion: The PR blunder of Labour's first ministers

Scotland's first minister has become odds-on favourite to win the coveted political PR gaffe of the year award.

Even the English media were forced to cover the story of Jack McConnell's decision to accept an invitation to attend the gala dinner to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews rather than travel to Normandy for the D-Day commemorations.

For once, the Scottish papers were united in their condemnation. 'Shame on you,' roared The Scottish Sun. More cleverly, the Daily Record splashed 'Tee Day!'. It didn't take long for McConnell to change his travel plans and forgo the links of St Andrews for France, but the damage was done.

How on earth could such a blunder happen to the ex-PR man? Some blame his advisers, but this fails to take into account that McConnell made the decision. Perhaps he thought that since the Duke of York had opted to put golf before war veterans, it was alright for him, too. The problem is that McConnell is a first minister and Prince Andrew is a minor royal and upper-class twit who spends a lot of time playing golf. Even he didn't get away with it though - the Mail on Sunday had him in its sights with its own splash.

It's a pity no one bothered to ask why the R&A had fixed its celebration dinner to coincide with D-Day. Perhaps it thought that since its anniversary was for 250 years, it took precedence over a 60th anniversary.

We all know how important golf is to Scotland, but how anyone can think it is more important than saving Europe from fascism is beyond belief.

Yet even in Wales, golf fever seems to have stopped people's brains from working. First minister Rhodri Morgan put golf first by choosing a meeting on the 2010 Ryder Cup in preference to being in Normandy. At first, he, like McConnell, was bullish, but unlike his Scottish counterpart, he stayed at home. He apologised for any offence he may have caused, but again the damage had been done.

Number 10 went bonkers. All the bad PR for Labour leaders was taking place in the week before the 'super Thursday' elections. It was reportedly a call from comms chief David Hill that made McConnell see sense.

Unlike the Scots and the Welsh, Tony Blair knew how to handle the Normandy commemoration. Even if he didn't like playing second fiddle to the Queen while jealously looking on at all the positive PR that George Bush and Jacques Chirac were getting, he kept a dignified silence.

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