An object lesson in PR from David Cameron and Justin Welby
April 17, 2016 4 Comments
This strikes me as a great lesson for all of us, about how things are perceived. Yes, it comes from the UK, but the lesson is timeless. From The Spectator
I don’t think there is a Royal College of Public Relations, but if there were, it should teach a course based on a comparison between two stories last week. One concerned the Prime Minister and the other the Archbishop of Canterbury. Both arose from the paternity of the principals and, in both cases, the principals had not done anything wrong. Yet there the similarities end. David Cameron, and those working for him, spent the best part of a week fending off and then changing a story they found embarrassing. Justin Welby, and his much smaller staff, confirmed the truth of a potentially much more painful story in one go, bravely and clearly. Mr Cameron emerged from fundamentally minor questions about what money his father might have passed him (and by what means) with what looked like — though it isn’t — a stain on his character. Mr Welby came through a revelation of the sort that can provoke a nervous breakdown — that the man you thought was your father was not — with his character enhanced. Prime Minister looked cross and shifty; archbishop looked strong and honest. Why the difference? It is not as if Mr Cameron is a bad man. He is moderate, patriotic, decent, family-minded, sane and humorous. Could it be something to do with the power of conviction? What seems to nag at the Prime Minister is a sense of his inauthenticity. He condemns tax avoidance not because he really thinks it automatically wrong, but because he is frightened about being thought posh and rich. Then he gets hoist by his own petard, so people laugh at him. The Archbishop of Canterbury, on the other hand, found his unshakeable faith through the extreme difficulties of his early life. When it turns out even more difficult, he knows instinctively how to deal with this. People respect him the more.
It feels strange to write ‘Mr Welby’ when previous Archbishops have been Dr. But it is correct. Because he was an oil executive, not a theologian, Justin Welby was not in line for a doctorate. It is a tiny indicator that he is different from the normal run.
After I had confirmed for certain that the late Sir Anthony Montague Browne was the father of the archbishop, and reported it in the Daily Telegraph on Saturday, I reflected on the potency of his pair of ivory-backed, monogrammed hairbrushes. It was they — or rather, his hair on them — that provided his DNA. Not only did they therefore play a key role in the investigation, rather like the lead piping in a game of Cluedo; they also spoke so clearly of the period and milieu of their owner. I do not know any men under the age of 80 who have a pair of such hairbrushes, unless inherited. They are redolent of an age where men had special dressing-rooms for such things — stiff collars, stud-boxes, shoe trees, clothes brushes, cut-throat razors. Sir Anthony’s widow, Shelagh, tells me he was most possessive of these hairbrushes and refused to let her wash them. He may have feared that washing would make the bristles part from the ivory. But it was this decision that incriminated him.
A Middle Eastern friend put to me the other day a point so big that I felt silly for not having thought of it. Why are so many people fleeing from Syria and Iraq, and other parts of the region, beyond the huge, obvious reason that they fear for their lives? Because they believe that the Shias have gained the whip hand over the Sunnis. George Bush’s mishandling of Iraq after he conquered it opened the way for Iranian power. Barack Obama’s abandonment of Saudi Arabia, his refusal to restore order in Syria and his nuclear deal with Iran have erected this mistake into a policy. So one of this policy’s victims is the EU.
But that’s the thing, isn’t it. It’s almost never the act itself (barring actual criminal acts, anyway), it’s always the cover-up.
Frankly, neither story is any of our business, but given how prominent they are, once two people knew it, it was going to come out, in a big way. And you see how the difference in handling it, changed the whole story. The PM hurt himself, how badly, I don’t know, but the Archbishop, made himself look like what he is, a good Christian man, trying to do his best.
A lesson for us all, I think.