How I would rescue Aitken

ANOTHER VIEW Max Clifford
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The Independent Online
In many ways, Jonathan Aitken's predicament reminds me of that of Derek Hatton when I first started advising him - although there are virtually no similarities between them.

Mr Hatton was, if anything, in an even worse position than Mr Aitken: hated by the political parties, attacked by all sections of the media and presented as somewhere between Adolf Hitler and Attila the Hun. I had first to create a media platform for him to have a chance of changing his image, which we did by sending him to night-clubs with aspiring actresses and models. The tabloids covered these events, the broadsheets picked up the tabloid stories and analysed them, as they are inclined to do. He was invited on to chat shows to talk about, and try to justify, the night-club stories; this gave him a chance to put his case about other, far more serious accusations. Without that platform he would not have had that opportunity. We changed his image from militant to champagne socialist; it won him a book deal, a television advertising campaign - and eventually his own television series. He did very well out of it.

I would not suggest Mr Aitken goes to night-clubs as a way out of his problems. He has to address the fact that the media are treating him as if he is guilty - and the public are influenced by what they are told. He comes over as an arrogant man, which is extremely damaging with the British public. In America, it is different. But here, a little humility goes a long way.

His best plan is to go public and get people's sympathy on his side. He needs to subject himself to an interview on television by someone who would not be perceived as sympathetic or giving him an easy ride - Jeremy Paxman would be the man. It is a gamble, but assuming Mr Aitken is innocent, he has nothing to lose and it might just start to turn the tide, if he is convincing. Mr Aitken has to win friends and influence people. He will never win with the journalists - they are more cynical than politicians - but he could sway the public. I say this not knowing the man; a public relations campaign has to be tailor-made to the requirements and personality of the individual.

As for the fax that went astray, it seems very strange to me. Of course, it is possible to get the wrong number, but it is also essential to word sensitive material in such a way as to be meaningless if it falls into the wrong hands. You do not need to spell things out. Only a complete idiot would make that sort of mistake. It is, at best, careless and, at worst, deadly.

So my advice to Mr Aitken is to learn some humility, put yourself up for questioning on television and work hard at convincing the British public with your personality and answers. It is not impossible - and remember that PR is often as dirty and deceitful a game as politics.

Max Clifford is a public relations consultant whose clients include Frank Sinatra, Muhammad Ali and Antonia de Sancha.

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