Editor-At-Large: Treating visitors to Britain like idiots is far from GREAT

  • @The_Real_JSP

How to solve Britain's much publicised problems – stagnant economy, unemployment, general shortage of money? Forget about investing in teachers, creating new jobs, unveiling big public work projects or funding apprenticeships – all we need is a spot of rebranding, and UK PLC will magically turn the corner, emerging vibrant, energised and deeply desirable as a destination, a place to spend your cash.

David Cameron has been suckered into thinking that trendy ad agency Mother have hit on the missing ingredient which will lure four million extra visitors to our shores, and bring in a billion pounds of new investment. In New York last week the PM proudly unveiled a poster campaign which cost £510,000 to create, as if he was whipping the wraps off a Brit space shuttle or the Hadron Collider.

Sadly, the end result was a dog's dinner of visual and verbal clichés. Can you believe that the Mother boys and girls have spent weeks hothousing their creative juices to come up with – posters feature the word GREAT followed by Britain, focusing on our unique qualities? Talk about the emperor's new clothes.

Henry VIII, painted by a German, represents heritage. (Sadly Henry was only ever King of England, not the rest of the UK). Creativity is represented by Wallace and Gromit, Entrepreneurs by Richard Branson. There's football, rock fans, a bionic hand and a shoe. Countryside (a viaduct in the Scottish Highlands) is Great, accompanied by the catchphrase "some of the world's most inspiring landscapes". It's that "some of" that infuriates me. If Britain is that bloody GREAT why not just be bold and leave them out?

Mother is achingly hip, and its website too exhausting to bother with. It creates ads for Ikea, Stella Artois, Becks and Coca-Cola. I don't doubt that it is successful, but its efforts to reposition Britain as a desirable tourist destination are feeble and facile.

The Cool Britannia tag might have helped Tony Blair during the early part of his government, but the Vanity Fair issue he appeared in was published while John Major was in power, early in 1997. The Cool Britannia gang of artists and pop musicians all subsequently tried to disown their connection with New Labour post-Iraq, which turned Blair into a toxic brand.

Unlike GREAT Britain, Cool Britannia was dreamt up by journalists and was never a marketing strategy. More importantly, the economy was in good shape back in 1997 and there was a positive vibe in the air.

A different mood exists in 2011. For a start our Dear Leader has been droning on about Broken Britain for months. He has singlehandedly talked down brand Britain to the bargain basement. The riots were a catastrophe for tourism and reinforced Dave's view of the fundamental flaws in our society. Commentators here and abroad talked of a feral underclass, a state-funded parallel world where whole families have not worked for two generations.

How can a groovy bunch of kids in a London ad agency repaint the reality of life in modern Britain as it is beamed to the world through modern media, via posters and a leaden catchphrase? The barricades at Dale Farm, arson in Croydon and looting on a massive scale, all swept under the carpet in favour of Plasticine puppets and dead monarchs? Last week, Newsweek's cover story described London as Grimsville UK – not exactly a ringing endorsement for Mother's new fab Britain.

Crucially, its campaign also tells blatant untruths. The picture of Branson says "entrepreneurs are GREAT – the easiest place to set up a business in Europe". Not a view that would be endorsement by thousands of our small businesses, three-quarters of whom say that bank fees for loans are far too high. The amount of money our banks lent to small businesses fell by 10 per cent in the first six months of 2011.

If you go around boasting you're GREAT, you're not very cool, and it invites contradiction. My main complaint, as with the utterly redundant catchphrase Make Poverty History (as if anyone would want to keep poverty), is that telling us that culture, countryside and sport are all GREAT is stating the obvious.

Doesn't this campaign imply we think tourists are stupid and need to be shouted at in block capitals?

Anything goes in the Postmodern show

What was Postmodernism? You won't be much wiser after a trip around the cluttered, confusing and cramped show at the V&A.

Was it about unusable huge teapots? Massive jewellery that looks like a whole toolbox in one necklace? Or pop performed by musicians in outlandish costumes, uncomfortable furniture or pretentious buildings?

There's a lot to commend an artistic movement that swiftly touched so many aspects of high and low culture – and then vanished, to be replaced by something a lot more serious. It doesn't seem the slightest bit strange to be cataloguing and commemorating something only 30 years after it officially ended.

The highlight of this artistic jumble sale is the pop section – Talking Heads' David Byrne in his Big Suit from Stop Making Sense, Kraftwerk as robots, Grace Jones posing as a superhuman, and my all-time favourite the divine Klaus Nomi, dressed as half-man half-penguin in an outrageous dinner suit. Klaus died in 1983 after a brief career in New York – but he'll always have pride of place in my Postmodern heart.

The Huhnes – a soap opera

We are on tenterhooks waiting for the police to decide whether to prosecute Chris Huhne over driving offences, and the Lib Dem conference last week was yet another episode in this soap opera. In one corner, press officer Carina Trimingham; in the other, his down-trodden former wife, economist Vicky Pryce.

Chris doesn't have people skills – odd for someone with ambitions to be top dog. At a fringe meeting he said he felt "enormously regretful" about the way he ended his marriage: his wife found out hours before his affair was exposed in a newspaper.

Vicky retorts: "I'm surprised my ex-husband considers it appropriate to talk about very private aspects of our family at a public meeting". I'm not. Chris would discuss his toenail clippings if it would get him one step higher up the ladder of power.

The lady doth protest too much

If anyone had taken a picture of me plunginig into the waves at Whitstable that looked one tenth as glamorous as the famous one of Helen Mirren, I'd be using it with my column and turning it into place mats.

Ever since 66-year-old Dame Helen was snapped in a red bikini in Italy three years ago, she's moaned about it. Now, in an interview to promote her latest film, The Debt, she complains: "I really wish I could bury those bloody pictures... they were basically a lie and extremely hard to live up to." Helen is an actress who is covered in make-up every time she appears on our screen, who regularly appears on the red carpet beautifully styled in expensive clothes, with great hair and perfect lipstick. Nothing wrong with help, is there?