Labour’s apologists are putting it about that, in the great sweep
of history, Sierra Leone will count for nothing. They are wrong. It has
already entered the PR textbooks as an example of how not to handle an
It will also become a useful tool in teaching politics because of what
it tells you about this Government - which is not very clever PR either
since what you learn does not redound to its reputation.
I reckon that the Government has so far broken five other PR rules.
First, never react without knowing the facts. Foreign Secretary Robin
Cook was so desperate to exonerate himself from blame for any UN
sanctions-busting arms-running that we were left wondering whether
anybody in Government knew what was going on.
You can understand his problem. He made hay in Opposition over the
munitions-to-Iraq affair and is now supposed to be running a moral
Second, never compound your reputation for being a rat for ditching your
wife by leaving the impression you are also prepared to lay down your
junior Ministers’ and officials’ lives to save your own skin. Similarly,
it is unwise to reinforce gossip that your love life reinforces your
natural disinclination to get the bottom of your Ministerial boxes.
Third, having talked yourself into a hole, stop digging. Mr Cook has
clearly missed his calling. He would have made a superb navvy. No doubt
Sandline, the mercenaries in this case who have relished exchanging
salvoes with him, are considering hiring him for mining and sapping
Fourth, never lose control. Mr Cook has clearly learned nothing from the
Scott inquiry for he has festooned himself with investigations to prove
his innocence. He has put his political life in someone else’s
He has also ensured that the issue keeps coming back like a Eurovision
song contest. And fifth, never get yourself repudiated. Suddenly out of
the blue Tony Blair took credit for re-installing the legitimate
Government of President Kabbah in Freetown only five days after Mr Cook
had asserted ’there was no Government policy or UN support for military
intervention to restore him’.
The result is a damaged and probably lame-duck Foreign Secretary; a
Government which - as Bernie Ecclestone and the euro have previously
shown - can be amazingly slow to get its act together; and a Prime
Minister who mercilessly overrides and humiliates his most senior
colleagues with positively amazing brass neck. This is not what the spin