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

Qualified Primary Teaching Assistant

£64 - £73 per day + Competitive rates based on experience : Randstad Education...

Primary KS2 NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Primary NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Primary NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Piper Ryan Randall leads a pro-Scottish independence rally in the suburbs of Edinburgh  

i Editor's Letter: Britain survives, but change is afoot

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Some believe that David Cameron is to blame for allowing Alex Salmond a referendum  

Scottish referendum: So how about the English now being given a chance to split from England?

Mark Steel
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam