Ever since I was politically aware - which, given my upbringing,
dates from around 1938 - I have harboured doubts about that
indispensable PR tool called third party advocacy. The peasant in me
tells me that it all depends on the third party.
Let me give you a personal example. Circumstances, such as obnoxious
’new age travellers’ and car parking charges, have encouraged me
publicly to support the Labour Mayor of Hebden Bridge, Councillor Les
Siddall whom I have never met. He seems genuinely concerned to look
after my home town’s interests. But I prefer not to think what I have
done to his reputation with the district’s zealots who appositely see me
as some mad Don Quixote - I do tilt at windmills - and urge me to retire
’God save me from my friends’ is a familiar cry in politics. These days
it must be daily heard ringing around the splendid ceilings of No 10 as
the ’friends’ decide, for example, just how hostile or friendly they are
to a single Euro-currency. But breathes there a Tory with soul so dead
who never to himself has said that this - Sir Edward advocating Scottish
devolution and a minimum wage - is the finest thing that could happen to
us? If he’s for it, everybody else will be agin it.
It should therefore be obvious even to the most naive among us that
third party advocacy is a dangerous double-edged weapon. It has become
potentially lethal over recent years because of the media’s
determination to test to destruction not only those exercising power but
also their every associate.
Not even Mother Theresa is immune. The media now feeds us on a staple
diet of revelations about a girl who danced with a boy who danced with a
girl who danced with the Prince of Wales.
This brings me a new study which suggests that the power to sway public
opinion is shifting from politicians to stars of entertainment, business
or sport. It is claimed that the key to a fifth Conservative term lies
with England soccer captain Alan Shearer, publicity-mad businessman
Richard Branson or even Page 3 girl Melinda Messenger who,
unfortunately, is not available to be signed up. She has lost her heart
to Tony Blair. Their individual endorsement, it is said, could deliver
millions of voters to the Tories.
If so, why is Conservative Central Office wasting money on lions weeping
buckets of blood instead of signing up celebrities? The answer is, of
course, that politics is not just a pretty or famous face. It is a
fiendishly difficult calling. It is, indeed, a matter of life and death.
And celebrities are unreliable. The late Kenny Everett, backing
Thatcher, once talked of bombing Russia on an election platform. Third
party endorsement is over-rated.