Wednesday 7 September 2005

Absolutely fabulous

Who says PR is not like Ab Fab? I enjoyed a glorious 24 hours drinking champagne in celebration when Edward Heath died, with only my native parsimony holding me back from smashing my glass in the hearth each time I emptied it, while slurring ‘So perish all enemies of England!’

The drinking spree came as no surprise to my clients, though the reason for it did. As one kindly put it: ‘Ted Heath was a fat, rude, single, music-loving Tory, whose life ended in bitterness and failure. You had everything in common.’

True enough. Yet I can’t imagine that anyone who recalls Heath’s term of office – four years of abandoned principles, misleading pronouncements, economic mismanagement and industrial mayhem – would regard him as anything but a shoo-in for the title of ‘Worst Prime Minister of the Twentieth Century’, even against the stiff competition offered by Eden, Callaghan, Major and Blair.

His two great crimes against this country were to carve up our historic counties on supposedly more rational lines, and to take us into the then Common Market without explicit public support. He reassured us at the time that this involved no essential loss of sovereignty – then informed us years later that it had always been a pathway to a United States of Europe, and we would have known that if only we had bothered to read the small print.

Such honesty is most unusual in a politician. It’s just a shame that it wasn’t applied more consistently.

In his supreme disregard for PR – his rudeness and open conviction that the man in Whitehall, or preferably Brussels, knew best – Heath represented a political type I doubt we shall ever see again. Even if, after eight years of a Government obsessed with spin, we might begin to feel vaguely nostalgic for it.

We may well choose a gay, black or disabled Prime Minister in my lifetime (though not, by common consent, a bald one). But I cannot believe that one like Heath who rejected the first principles of PR will ever again enter 10 Downing Street.

All the contenders for the Tory leadership are falling over themselves to demonstrate their listening skills, broad public appeal and user-friendliness. The only interesting question is whether a veneer of blokeish amiability will be enough to secure the tarnished crown for another man who shares Heath’s belief in our European destiny.

Keith Hann is a PR consultant and conservative.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.