Opinion: Don't be afraid of losing 'control'

Ask any spin doctor what he or she fears most and they will probably reply with anything they 'can't control'. This is a very natural reaction but not necessarily the right one, because 'control' can make a politician, or indeed any high-profile celebrity, appear less human. Spontaneous happenings, on the other hand, can work wonders.

When David Beckham joined Real Madrid the picture that beamed around the world took place when a young kid broke through the security and the England captain picked him up. It was so good that most of the cynical hacks thought it was a deliberate PR stunt, which it wasn't.

Similarly during the last election I was in the Sky TV studio when John Prescott landed his left hook on the chap who threw an egg at him. Adam Boulton, the well-respected political editor, immediately said that this was 'the end' for the Deputy Prime Minister and that Labour would suffer untold damage. Of course the opposite happened. Many thought that it was quite right for Prescott to react the way he did and, for the first time, they felt they could relate to him.

During the same campaign, a female member of the public who harangued Tony Blair on the road became famous for 15 minutes and, of course, the following press pack loved the confrontation. But this didn't do the PM any harm - largely because he listened to the woman and calmly tried to answer her questions.

All this puts into perspective his so-called 'PR blunder' last week.

Blair went on Five for a whole day and was certainly subjected to plenty of abuse from angry voters. The Daily Mail and other hostile papers reported the next day that this was a 'PR stunt' that went wrong.

Blair's minders have certainly decided to get him to meet as many 'ordinary' people as possible, both on TV and radio, and this could be perceived as a dangerous strategy. But I'm not so sure. There are few politicians better at handling people and it's not as if Blair is a stranger to the electorate.

The new strategy also has the benefit of exposing Michael Howard's weakness.

He often comes across as a shifty barrister, but I wouldn't recommend he adopts the Blair approach - he has enough difficulty facing Jeremy Paxman.

Interestingly, there is a clear move by Labour HQ to keep its so-called campaign boss - Alan Milburn - off the TV completely. I'm told that the focus groups see him as arrogant, particularly unappealing to women voters and even more menacing than Howard. With Alastair Campbell as the real campaign boss, expect to see less of Milburn from now on.

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