I don’t know who Rob Ford’s public relations adviser is, but it looks like his counsel to the Mayor of Toronto was a curious inversion of a commonly applied adage. “When you’re in a hole, carry on digging,” he might have been told.
This can be the only explanation for Mr Ford’s strategy as far as his public utterances and general comportment is concerned. His explanation for his bad behaviour – “yes, I’ve taken crack cocaine,” he said, “but it was probably during one of my drunken stupors” – set a new benchmark for public pleas in mitigation, far outranking MP Mark Oaten’s excuse that he was worried about his receding hairline, or, most recently, Rev Paul Flowers suggesting that a family bereavement had propelled him towards the illicit appeal of Crystal Meth.
Mr Ford followed this up by making threatening advances to the public gallery of the Toronto Council Chamber, knocking down a female councillor in the process. At this stage of the game, stripped of his powers, I suppose Mr Ford might as well carry on digging, because when he gets out at the other end, something far more lucrative awaits him. And, if he plays his cards right, it’s something with much more longevity than the Mayoralty of Canada’s second most boring city. Rob Ford, disgraced public official and part-time crackhead, stands on the threshold of becoming (cue fanfare) ... a celebrity.
He already has a TV show in which a range of Tea Party-esque opinions are aired, but the modern world generally rewards notoriety in a much more substantial way. Reality shows, public appearances, commercial endorsements: that’s the way it goes for someone who’s captured the headlines and hasn’t actually done something truly terrible. And bear in mind that Rob Ford was, at one stage, popular enough to be the democratically elected leader – with a record majority, no less – of a city of 2.5 million, so with his new-found exposure, he’s a dead cert to shift the dial for TV producers and purveyors of clobber.
His rich brand of populism, exemplified by his wearing the jersey of a local football team while at the dais in the council chamber, is something with which we are becoming increasingly familiar in the world of politics and, in an era of carefully crafted soundbites and party line blandness, there is no doubt that this strikes a chord with the general public. Think Boris Johnson. Or Nigel Farage. Their respective success owes more than a little to the fact that, when people hear them speak, they recognise an authentic language.
On top of that, Rob Ford now has a back story that speaks of human weakness. Who hasn’t been on a drunken binge, and ended up in a crack den? Well, not exactly, but you get my point. Rob Ford’s frank admission of moral frailty will win some hearts and minds. And then he is ready to set out on the road that goes from infamy to celebrity and, you can be sure, back again.