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Thursday, 12 July 2007

“There is nothing so bad that politicians cannot make it worse” – Mark Twain

Before I begin, a disclaimer: I belong to no party - though I’ve worked for two – and will talk about that eventually.

Do you know when the licensing laws came in – and why?

Lloyd George’s government introduced them over 90 years ago to keep munitions workers sober during the Great War - you know, the “war to end all wars” that didn’t.

He brought them in because we depended on munitions workers for shells and mines that blew up when they should and it seemed a good idea to make sure they weren’t too pissed to know what they were doing.

This did not apply to the politicians, of course. They were probably too pissed to know what they were doing much of the time because the 11 bars at the House of Commons continued to remain open all night. (Lloyd George probably wasn’t that far gone, to be fair. His hobby was fucking everything that moved.)

Anyhow, the moral seems to have been that those determining where the shells and mines went didn’t need to be as sober as those making them.

Politicians think they know better than us. So do journalists - and those two loathsome sub-species “opinion-formers” and “activists”. These people - who want to determine what we do and how we think - live in a weird parallel universe that should be blown up.

Gordon Brown stole half my pension - but his is safe no matter how bad a job he does. Journalists - even the right wingers - keep saying what a good job he has done.

I just don’t get it, do you?

Suppose you hired a financial director ten years ago.

When he arrived, business was good. You were very productive; you had more in the bank than for over half a century - but you’d neglected your firm’s infrastructure in important areas like staff training and communications.

He and the new MD were amazingly good bullshitters, so even though nothing seems to go according to plan and they keep on repeating the same promises, you give them more than a fair chance.

Ten years on, all the things that weren’t working now work even worse. What’s more all the money in the kitty has been pissed away on crazy schemes that failed to sort them out, often involving over-priced consultants and friends of the management.

What’s more the firm is far less competitive, he’s been quietly dipping into the reserves, and nobody trusts him or anyone else in management because the one thing they’ve shown themselves to be really good at is lying.

Would you describe him as a brilliant financial manager or a totally useless arsehole who should be swiftly kicked into touch?

Then, what if by some strange quirk in company law, without being asked by the shareholders, he was promoted to managing director?

Would you believe the latest load of flannel he came out with? Or be seriously worried?
I only ask, because I’m beginning to suspect the alternative could be even worse.

“Do bears shit in the woods?” they ask.

Cameron is a marketing man. If Seth Godin is right, “All marketers are liars”. So it’s natural for him to be a deceitful wretch.

But that’s not what worries me. If we all told the truth all the time, it would be the end of polite society. Anyhow, give me a competent rogue rather than a well-meaning but clueless do-gooder any time. Look what a mess Carter was as U.S. president.

What worries me is that he seems suspiciously like an incompetent rogue. Surely the journalists have it wrong again when they praise him for copying Blair.

To go back to war, where I began this, the maxim is: never fight the new war with the last war’s weapons. That’s what he seems to be doing.

What most people would like from a politician now is a rare quality, recommended by, of all things, an advertising man that a friend of mine worked with many, many years ago.

The friend is Joel Raphelson, a writer so good that David Ogilvy sent him the draft of Ogilvy on Advertising with the request, “Dear Joel, Kindly improve, D.O.

I had lunch with Joel a few weeks ago. I learned that he started his career working for Charlie Brower, a copywriter who later became a hugely successful chairman of BBD & O. He said something I often quote:

“Honesty is not only the best policy; it is rare enough nowadays to make you pleasantly conspicuous.”

The art of persuasion starts with saying something so clearly true that people believe what you say next –
you can quote me on that, by the way.

Cameron should try that as a substitute for phony bike-rides and ludicrous hoody-hugging antics.

And he should try a new weapon his role-model never tested. Forget the vague promises. Ask what people really, really want and tell them exactly how he will deliver it.

It’s not hard to discover. And it’s not a parade of posed photos.

Wouldn’t we all like to be treated like grown-ups, able to make our own decisions, capable of distinguishing truth from fiction?

If he thinks he can do things better, why not answer the question most people usually ask when someone makes promises. How will you make them come true? And not just with the usual waffle about policy and strategy. Details.

Why doesn’t he do it? Instead he’s wheeling out the con man’s old excuse: “I can’t tell you exactly how I’ll make you rich yet. Give me the money first.”

Why not say, “This is how we plan to sort out the hospitals, the schools, and transport. It may not work out exactly like that – nothing in life ever does – but you can see we’ve got some sensible ideas.”

But for a man with a career based on Eton followed by marketing bollocks, I guess that would be a bit intellectually challenging.

We know after ten years what Gordon Brown thinks is the way to go. The government will tell you, aided by an army of snoops.

But I think - especially after our experiences of the EU - most people rather appreciate Ronald Reagan’s joke:

“The most frightening words in the world are: I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.”

That’s enough excitement for today, but would you like my views on immigration next?

As I shall explain, I’m something of an expert, starting with the wonderful Polish stripper I lived with. That’s another story.

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