Opinion: Reid and co trample on grounded Prescott

A good crisis gives leading politicians the chance to shine, or in the case of John Prescott, disappear.

The events of last week gave John Reid his big opportunity to show what a good leader he would make. The real war played out on the airwaves in recent days has not been against the terror threat. It has been a PR war designed to show just how effective the Government with Reid in charge is in dealing with terrorists.

The new Home Secretary had a good early advantage since he obviously knew that something big was about to happen, and cleverly cancelled his holiday.  No such self-sacrifice from Tony Blair.  The Prime Minister would have been on the first plane back from the Caribbean if he faced an election.

The canny Transport Secretary Douglas Alexander was on holiday, too, on the Scottish island of Mull, when informed of the latest terrorist plot. He flew back to London, plumping for the statesmanlike helicopter to ensure Reid wasn't allowed to steal the whole show himself.

But perhaps the most significant moment of the week came when BBC Breakfast used the Home Office video showing Reid and Alexander talking to an autocue about the new terror crisis. It was 100 per cent government propaganda.  No journalists were present and so no questions asked - a PR technique that the broadcasters fell for hook, line and sinker. Only later did the pair face the press.

Reid's PR team must have been in dreamland as William Hill slashed his odds of being the next PM to 4-1. They were so pleased with themselves that they started briefing that Prescott had been sidelined in favour of their man.  Prezza - technically running the country while Blair is away - went ballistic but was powerless to act.

The Home Secretary's odds soon began to lengthen again though as our airports struggled. ‘Travel chaos as airlines ordered to slash flights' and ‘Get Britain Flying again' were not the sort of headlines the Government wanted. Hey presto, the security alert was downgraded and MP3 players were allowed back on board.

Nothing to do with the Government, of course. A decision taken by the security forces alone, Alexander told us with a straight face.

The only real surprise of the past week's events was the normally PR-savvy David Cameron allowing himself to be pictured sunning himself on a beach in floral swimming trunks. The Tory leader looked almost as out of touch as the Prime Minister, who has been sporting equally silly beachwear. Crisis, what crisis?  
charlie.whelan@haynet.com

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