In my time in the Government’s service, I encountered many people
who saw positive benefits in confusion PR. They believed in keeping
everybody guessing until the machine had decided where to go. For one
thing, everybody could put their oar in, believing that they had a
chance of influencing the outcome. Some of them also believed in saying
one thing while doing another. Indeed, Harold Wilson was felt to be the
arch-exponent of this method of PR.
It is, however, very hard on the credibility of spokesmen, and Margaret
Thatcher’s clarity of purpose came as a breath of fresh air. I was
blessed among press secretaries because she knew what she wanted to do
and stuck to it. That enabled me to brief with the power and authority
which reinforced the apparent strength of her governments.
Now, after nearly two years of Mr Blair’s Government, we can see that
when it is not in the confusion PR business, it sees merit in saying one
thing and doing another. Witness, as examples, Mr Blair’s dealings with
Formula 1 cigarette advertiser, Bernie Ecclestone; that London parks
lover, ex-Welsh secretary Ron Davies; and, most recently, genetically
The Government says it is in favour of reducing atmospheric pollution
(while burning more coal and writing off nuclear power); ending welfare
dependency (while running away from it); and openness (leaking, or
’trailing’ as they put it, every initiative three times over, while
gagging the Sunday Telegraph when it gets hold of a copy of the Stephen
Lawrence race killing inquiry report).
It began this week to shift a bit on its essentially Augustinian
position on entering a single currency - Oh Lord, make me pure but not
until the Sun agrees - but do not expect any change in next Tuesday’s
Budget presentation from Gordon Brown. Our Chancellor is a past master
at employing smoke and mirrors. His last Budget offers a remarkable
insight into his methods.
You will recall that while, on the one hand, he said ten times over that
his Budget was prudent, he proposed to spend an extra pounds 57 billion
(15 per cent) over three years on health, education and welfare.
This did not add up, so I made some enquiries. I now have it from the
Commons Library that while, for example, he portrayed himself as
spending an extra pounds 19 billion on education, it is at the most only
pounds 10 billion and, adjusted for inflation, only about pounds 6.5
billion. He managed this feat by double and treble counting so that
additional spending in each of the three years of pounds 3 billion,
pounds 3 billion and pounds 4 billion was presented as pounds 3 billion,
pounds 6 billion and pounds 10 billion, thus converting pounds 10
billion at the most into pounds 19 billion. Confusion PR will be the
death of this Government because increasingly it is being rumbled.