Gobby MPs and extremists have always been a PR godsend. I remember Jim Rose (of the S&M flat irons-hanging from locust-eating, beer-regurgitating, light bulb-eating, chained nipples, cock-ringed, breeze block-dangling circus sideshow) ensnaring some ancient moral majority hag in a violent harangue in Edinburgh.
Strangely, the media turned up right in the middle of it. Peculiarly, reports ran all over the news pages. Bizarrely, the show sold out. It’s the simplest formula in PR.
Publicists and journalists know that there’s a solid, dependable roster of proven no-hopers with the magic “MP” after their names.
These guys – too talentless to gain high office, too self-important to sit in backbench obscurity, too stupid to realise they’re being exploited – can push a piece of TV trivia right up the news agenda. They speak with the gravitas that – quite unjustifiably – attaches to anyone who parks their arse on a parliamentary seat.
Unwittingly, they can give product, personalities and programmes an apparent national importance, and a national news angle. Big news, of course, makes for big business.
Well aware of the power of provocation as a publicity tool, the makers of Channel 5’s “interesting” documentary about Fred West, set about stirring it up a bit. Allegedly, they homed in on Gloucester’s MP, Parmjit Dhanda, reckoning he’d be seduced at the prospect of stashing some populist capital.
Here was a golden opportunity for Parmjit to mount a heroic, highly public campaign to defend his constituents from the outrageous intrusion of the media into a story still raw and, for many, too painfully close to home.
There was only one slight problem: they’d underestimated their man. Parmjit “campaigned” against it in terms of hypotheticals, in measured and reasonable terms. Hoping to up the ante, the producers “barred” him from viewing the finished product.
Unreasonably Parmjit refused to become incandescent with rage and moral pomposity. He just said he’d not been allowed to see the material and had had no co-operation from the film-makers. Big story, heh?
Hopes of a populist outcry vanished overnight. The producers ended up looking stupid. They undermined what credibility they might have had. The desired injection of oxygen which Parmjit was set up to administer to fuel the fires of publicity, had not transpired.
Like many of his contemporaries, Parmjit is either better schooled in the wily ways of the media and promoters, or he’s watched Ali G, Dennis Pennis and Chris Morris, and he’s drawn his own conclusions.
As a depraved and scheming publicist, this should upset me deeply, but happily it doesn’t. The no-entry signs may be going up across this profitable PR boulevard, but there’s always an alternative route round to the same destination. It’s too late for Channel 5 to find it, but there’s hope yet. They’ve not entirely failed.
After all, what am I writing about this week? But then again, it’s not going to encourage you to switch on the documentary, or (more importantly for Channel 5) to watch the advertisements in between.
Stunt meter rating: 3