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

Related Topics

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?

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Regulatory / Compliance / Exeter

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: Exeter - An excellent opportunity for a Solici...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - 12 Month Fixed Term - Shrewsbury

£17000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Helpdesk Support Technician - 12 ...

The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Planner

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...

The Jenrick Group: World Wide PLC Service Engineer

£30000 - £38000 per annum + pesion + holidays: The Jenrick Group: World Wide S...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Mary Christmas: the Bethlehem story is Mary's moment, when a poor peasant girl gives birth to the Son of God in a stable  

The appeal of the Virgin Mary: A supernatural hope at a time of scepticism

Peter Stanford

Letters: Why Cameron is wrong about EU child benefits

Independent Voices
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there