Dear Gus O'Donnell: A few words of advice about party etiquette for the press officer whose farewell bash turned out to be a public relations nightmare

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Indy Lifestyle Online
I don't think your farewell dinner at Number 10 was a very good idea, do you? I thought the art of public relations, which you purport to practise, was about getting the best possible media coverage for your boss. Not landing him in it after a private and posh black-tie bash in your honour.

The first mistake, surely, was inviting only some of the press reptiles in to sit alongside your mum, dad, wife and Mr and Mrs Major. Any half-decent operator knows that a tabloid scorned is a fearsome beast, especially when the pack has been baying for weeks. It was inevitable that the tabloids which were excluded would scour the lobbies looking for ways to out-scoop those invited.

Who knows whether John Major actually uttered his threat to 'f------ crucify' the right wing, as was reported. All the newspaper political editors who were actually at table have countered defensively that the phrase was not uttered in their earshot, and that Mr Major's real message was that he was confident and chipper. I believe them. Looking at the luscious wine list - Chablis Chateau St Claire 1988, followed by Chateau Talbot 1982 - I doubt whether I'd remember anything significant about anything.

The trouble is that the phrase, true or false, does chime with the PM's accidentally taped and confidential outburst to ITN's Michael Brunson last year about right-wing b------s. Even the language is consistently vernacular. And the sight of Michael Portillo on TV lecturing us to respect our institutions does produce a similar wave of fury in me.

But I'm amazed that the dinner went ahead anyway, given the prima-facie evidence of Tory party splits and disarray. Bernard Ingham would never have got into such a bind or imagined that a do bringing together an inner elite of competitive journalists and the PM could have worked at such a sensitive time.

Meanwhile, most ordinary voters, who dine on modest microwaved dinners, will be agog at the lavish four-course style that your departure to the Treasury merited. Wouldn't a drinks party in a less exclusive setting have served the purpose just as well?

In your defence, some of the journalists you befriended are grateful that during your turbulent term of office you have tried to introduce a more open and above board method of dealing with the press. The manner of your departure unfairly colours your record.

All I know is that a true PR man would have had a deft excuse up his sleeve. Here's one: you might reasonably have succumbed to an attack of Downing Street 'flu, and quietly cried off.

(Photograph omitted)

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