Editorial: Choose PR advice not wallpaper

On the same day that one young man was stunned by a chunk of Buckingham Palace dropping on his head, a senior member of the Government was discomfited to find part of the Palace of Westminster falling on his.

On the same day that one young man was stunned by a chunk of

Buckingham Palace dropping on his head, a senior member of the

Government was discomfited to find part of the Palace of Westminster

falling on his.



If ever there was a public figure apparently crying out for some

soothing PR advice, it is the Lord Chancellor, who was this week grilled

by a Parliamentary committee on the costly and much satirised

refurbishment of his official residence.



Lord Irvine of Lairg, for all the intellectual qualities he brings to

the job, has none of the professional politician’s skill at

presentation.



His long overdue public defence of the refurbishment was robust enough,

but even in that he proved himself embarrassingly prone to laying banana

skins under his own feet.



In a withering put down, he suggested that the pounds 300 rolls of

wallpaper used were of a far superior, longer lasting grade than

’something down at a DIY store which might collapse after a year or so’.

This kind of remark, which would cause no more than a titter in a

courtroom, is inevitably amplified by the megaphone of the media. Sure

enough, the following day’s papers carried the expected outrage of

wallpaper manufacturers and retailers.



In some ways Irvine is right to regard all of this as ’a storm in a

teacup’; it will blow itself out in due course. But such rows have a

habit of permanently colouring political reputations if they are not

quickly doused.



He may well regard the pounds 650,000 refurbishment of a state apartment

as perfectly proper and unremarkable. The revelation, courtesy of some

plasterwork collapsing during an investiture ceremony, that over pounds

5 million was spent on maintaining Buckingham Palace last year may or

may not help his case.



But his apparent inability to see that the row is damaging to him and to

the Government is a serious defect, and is likely to prolong the

agony.



Irvine’s public relations troubles have sparked suggestions that he is

shortly to have a new director of communications installed in the form

of Downing Street deputy press secretary Allan Percival, thus sidelining

his department’s existing head of information, Sheila Thompson.



While Percival has a reputation as a safe pair of hands, his appointment

may be addressing the wrong problem. All the skilful PR advice in the

world will not work if you do not heed it, and the signs are that the

Lord Chancellor has not yet seen the need to do so. And, in public

relations terms, wallpapering over the cracks will not stop the ceiling

from falling in.



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