New media commentators have decreed that the age of the personal PR minder is dead. “Long live Twitter” is their clarion call. It’s the new communication tool for folk in the public eye. Openness and willingness to feed the twitter cycle offers an opportunity to unveil the ‘real you’; to be judged as well as to engage in an open, public conversation.
Who needs a flak when you talk directly to the people? The evidence that stellar Twitter personalities – in the shape of Ashton Kutcher, Jonathan Ross, Stephen Fry and Sarah Brown – have benefited from this thesis is proof that they are shining examples of successful DIY #PR 3.0.
Perhaps this is correct; but then along comes a public figure in reputation meltdown and the sages have to return to the drawing board and reluctantly agree that good council is worth the investment.
The front page of the Telegraph this morning outs the great white hope and Treasury chief David Laws for a dubious £40k expenses claim.
As the media hurricane picks up speed, various coalition friends are working slavishly hard across news channels to validate the credentials of Laws, the economic genius. The defence? At a time of crisis, Laws is a ‘vital and integral component of the squeaky clean Coalition’. In the interest of the country we should ignore the creative accounting that saw him claim up to £950 a month for eight years to rent rooms in two properties owned by his “partner”. Merely a technicality and the good ship Great Britain is charting tricky waters, so men of his calibre are needed on watch.
The billion dollar question is this: what possesses someone in such high office to think that the expenses issue would not make fizzing front page banner headlines. How would he be able to do his job with this whiff of creative accounting hanging over his office. Well, he is a human and it seems that the stupid gene is embedded in every last one of us, even economic geniuses.
The election was fought with pious politics and politicians, who droned on about a new age of parliament. An election campaign that guaranteed the public they would once again be able to trust the political class. Oh dear, did Mr. Laws believe he was above and beyond scrutiny?
It’s important to applaud his efforts to not declare his sexuality. This is not an issue – it’s his life and he should be allowed to live it in the way he chooses. Thank God the sad, bad days of homophobic Sunday tabloid outing is dead. But I am afraid that, on the issues of probity, he has to be unassailable. Power will damn the political class unless a physician can be found to administer a vaccine to eliminate the virus that causes hubris.
More importantly, this sorry case underlines the importance of a PR figure who can interface with individuals in the pressurised bubble of public life. No matter how good you think you are, you need a confidante who asks difficult questions and tells it to you straight. Human error is a fact so it’s essential that someone close can endeavour to challenge the stupid gene.
Mr Laws must do the decent thing and go now – I am sure he will be missed but should take a leaf out of Mandleson’s instruction manual. There is a time and place to return – go now and he can be back before the next General Election.
But next time around he really should employ a personal PR minder to watch his back. He can afford it – and I am sure it will be worth every penny!