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PR Observations: Is it time to stop avoiding the question?

Credit: David Quainton

The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.

Damn you, The Party, because I swear I just saw one of you do a thing, and everyone knows that they did the thing, so why don’t you admit they did the thing?

Ah, The Party cannot say on camera that they did the thing because then there will be a soundbite that said they did the thing, and then everyone will use it as a proxy for the entire The Party’s attitude. So, instead we are thrust a pillock’s parade of pitiful politicians peddling piffling non-apologies instead of acknowledging what the eyes and ears have seen.

All the above is, of course, referring to Lee Anderson’s loathsome comments and the Government’s reaction which is less 1984, and more Carry On Politicking in terms of its efficacy. 1984 is itself a good tome to reference, not because of its apposite selection of quotes, but because I’m pretty sure Anderson himself is a time-traveling butcher from 1984 who got stuck 40 years in the future and hasn’t managed to shake off some of his latter-day opinions.

The Tory response, like it or loathe it, is based on a tried and tested comms principle: it’s better to repeat something boring than say something meaningful and potentially incendiary. Because the latter is 100% guaranteed to catch fire.

But fear of flames has left us in a position where politicians from any party refuse to say anything about anything other than a prescribed party line.

And the people are getting annoyed with it.

It was notable this week that (what Anderson would call) the MSM repeatedly properly challenged those bleating a pre-prepared non-apology. What Anderson said was wrong, the politicians insisted, but they would not engage with why it was wrong. Only now the journalists and broadcasters were pointing out how ridiculous this was and, in at least one case, simply ended the interview when the interviewee didn’t want to answer the actual question.

I’m all for it, but it does pose a question for those in public affairs. Are we reaching a point when the actual heartfelt apology might be a political weapon? That admitting weakness and wrongdoing could be the way to go? That the awful soundbite you’re trying to avoid could be… useful? What I mean is, in a world where everyone is sticking (to the line) is it now time to twist?

This PR Observations column was written by David Quainton, head of communications at the digital consultancy Emergn. The opinions are his own.

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