‘The hypocrisy of Blair’ was the headline in The Sun on Monday this week, giving readers their weekly dose of outrage. Trevor Kavanagh, former political editor and now a columnist, wrote a stinging and vitriolic condemnation of the former Prime Minister for daring to suggest that there were ways to control immigration that might satisfy those who voted to leave the EU – and therefore mean Britain didn’t have to leave after all.
Tony Blair suggests much stricter immigration controls for EU citizens to satisfy angry UK voters: “Paradoxically, we have to respect the referendum vote to change it,” he explains. If he had sold his own children into the sex trade it’s difficult to imagine more personal and outraged coverage in some areas of the media. For example this story from the Express.
Blair appears to have grown a Teflon skin, which may be why he is such a strange colour. Defending him is a mug’s game so I am not going to waste my words, although I still think he is one of the most brilliant communicators of his generation, if not of his century.
But it does, once again, throw the spotlight on whether it is ever possible to change your mind in public – over a major issue – and not get completely ridiculed. It seems there is, in the somewhat skewed moral code of journalists, no bigger crime than to change your mind. This is, of course, irrational on many levels and was tackled in the last century in a quote attributed to economist John Maynard Keynes :
‘When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?’
Flip-flops and U-turns
I have written about this before two years ago (click here if you are interested) but the moral of the story is clear: you do not want to make public U-turns or flip-flops lightly because journalists will be likely to put it in a headline and suggest you are losing face, incompetent or an idiot.
If you do need to do it, it needs careful planning, crafted arguments or messages and robust answers to the obvious question of: ‘why have you changed your mind’, and ‘how often you have been wrong before’ etc. Blair, of course, had all these ready for his interviews on Sunday – plus a dose of humility, which is a good side dish in these circumstances. If you can get past any personal animosity to him, this interview on Andrew Marr on Sunday (available only until 19th October) is a good watch. No question is ever ignored but the prepared messages are always also inserted in such a way that you can’t spot the join. There is lots of careful phrasing and the usual rationale and inclusive tone. In its way it is a masterpiece.
If you need help messaging some difficult announcement, or just want to rehearse, the Media Coach team stand ready to help!
Photo of Tony Blair used under creative commons licence.