Miles Kington: A Gothic fable of a politician who cried wolf

Persistent calls for sacking actually help to reinforce someone's status. It's a bit like homeopathy
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The Independent Online

I was up in London on Saturday, hoping to catch the final days of the Gothic exhibition at the Tate, when who should I bump into in Soho but my old friend Adrian Wardour-Street, the king of PR.

"Hi, Adrian!" I said.

He didn't hear me. He had a mobile clamped to both ears.

"OK, ciao," he said to one.

"I'll get back to you on that," he said to the other.

As he put both of them away, he saw me in front of him.

"Don't tell me," I said. "You've got John Prescott on one line. And you've got Prescott's ex-girlfriend on the other. You're looking after them both simultaneously. Brilliant! Only you could handle that."

"Do me a favour," said Adrian. "Prescott's love life? That's kid's stuff. I wouldn't touch it with a bargepole. Leave that to Max Clifford. Keep him happy. I have bigger fish to fry."

"Tell me, " I said.

"Let me sit down first," he said.

He steered me up a side street and into a church.

"A church, Adrian?" I said. "We're going to pray together? That's not what I expected."

"No, no," said Adrian, steering me towards a sign saying Crypt Café. "You'd be surprised how many churches are branching out into catering these days. They've got shops, cafés, vault bars, everything. Mark my words, it won't be long before you hear someone talking about gastro-churches ..."

As we settled down with two Americanos, he told me he was working for Downing Street again.

"You may have noticed," said Adrian, "that there have been headlines recently saying things like, 'Is This The End for Blair?', 'How Much Longer Can Blair Last?', 'Pressure Grows on Blair to Step Down' and so on."

"Recently?" I said. "I've been seeing headlines like that for two years at least. People have been saying that Blair must go for almost as long as I can remember."

"Exactly!" said Adrian. "It's working!"

"What's working?"

"We used to think," said Adrian, looking round to make sure nobody was listening, "that when people called for a politician's dismissal, he was under threat. We now think the opposite is true. Persistent calls for a sacking and forecasts of resignation actually help to reinforce someone's status. It's a bit like homeopathy. A slight taste of Blair's resignation actually immunises him against have to resign. The public is so used to being told that Blair's days are numbered that he is now safer than he ever has been."

"Do you mean," I said, trying to follow his logic, "that you are responsible for all those stories forecasting Blair's imminent demise?"

"Spot on," said Adrian happily. "We are keeping Blair safely in office by constantly suggesting the opposite. People are so much under the illusion that Blair is under constant threat that they never notice that he isn't."

"Does that mean that Charles Clarke isn't under threat either?"

"Oh, no. Charles Clarke is under real threat. But that's good for Blair, too. There is only one man who can fire Clarke or Patricia Hewitt or even Prescott, and that is Blair. The more the others are under threat, the safer he is. But we have to keep the stories going that Blair's days are numbered. If a week goes past without a Blair Must Go story, we plant another one. For his sake."

"Let me get this straight," I said, my head spinning. "The more he seems under threat, the safer he is?'

"Certainly. It's like crying wolf. The more false alarms there are, the less likely anyone is to recognise when Blair is really under threat."

One of his mobiles rang. He answered it.

"Adrian here. Hi ... Oh, no! That's terrible! Wayne Rooney's broken his what?"

There was a pause.

"Phew," said Adrian. "Is that all!" He rang off.

"For a moment I thought it was bad news," he told me. "I thought Wayne Rooney has hurt his writing hand. Turns out it's just his foot. Nothing to stop him writing at all."

You won't be surprised to hear I never did get to the Gothic show that day. Real life in London is far too Gothic for it to be necessary to go to any exhibition.