I can’t be bothered with the minutiae. She should have been more careful; she was naive; she should have thought things through more carefully; she should have realised the ramifications. We’ve all been there. It’s embarrassing and we feel stupid. Let’s forget it, and put it all down to experience.
Of course, when you’re Cherie Blair, you don’t get second chances. Your behaviour and actions must be unimpeachable and you have no right to be silly as all normal people are. It’s totally unreasonable, but sorry, that’s just the way it is. If you do make a slip and end up acting silly, you will be hung, drawn and quartered by the media, particularly if the Daily Mail loathes you, your husband, your husband’s party and your husband’s party’s policies.
Cherie compounded her unwitting cockup of entrusting her financial affairs to a shyster, by wittingly cocking up with the media through panic. The moment the Mail got onto the story, and… I’m a bit nervy about litigation these days following a close run thing over Michael Moore, so I’ll just say she very probably lied to, or at least misled the Downing Street press office, meaning that not much of a story turned into very much of a story overnight.
Her heroic speech was a good job. Not brilliant, but well-conceived, well-rehearsed, well-presented, and it incorporated a sprinkling of emotion that was palpably real (unlike her husband’s cod grief and sub-am dram at the news of Princess Di’s death). She did exactly what was needed. Contrite, apologetic, I made a mistake, really sorry, do you mind just leaving it at that.
Unfortunately, she did it 36 hours too late. If you’re going to admit the mistake, admit quickly. If she’d said it on Monday morning, it would have been perfect. It would have pre-empted all of the speculation – right or wrong – that has followed.
However, since she said it on Tuesday night, then from the media point of view, it looked like some strategy; it seemed dodgy; it didn’t come over all that convincingly; it must have been cooked up; rather than putting and end to the saga, it raised more questions – and today’s Scotsman story claiming she saw legal papers relating to Foster’s deportation case suggest the story is not played out yet.
What a mess. And what a simple lesson.
When the media comes knocking on the door, don’t go into a tailspin. Don’t think it will all blow over (it never ever does), and don’t think that by sitting tight you can ride it out.
Staying schtum just fans the flames, but speaking out on instinct turns a bonfire into a full-blown conflagration. Don’t be guided by reason either: it’s no use in an irrational environment such as the media.
Take a deep breath. Stop. Think like a journalist (or find someone who can), and imagine the worst possible interpretation of the most innocuous, well-intentioned comment; imagine what your very best friend could reveal about you that you thought was an absolute secret (it might not be any longer); imagine what it might be like if everybody in the whole wide world wanted you dead, and then you’ll understand the precariousness of your situation.
Yeah yeah, it was just a flat in Bristol. But this isn’t about flats, it’s about selling papers. It’s not personal: you’re just raw material that gets churned, and pulped and shaped and smelted into sales. On that basis, you need to pause for a little while, then work out a strategy, and stick to it.
Just take time. But don’t wait until Tuesday.
I wasn’t too good at maths at school, but there must be a formula for this, maybe some graph with time as one axis and effectiveness as the other. Would you call it an inverse exponential curve? One of those that starts gently (briefly) then suddenly goes nearly vertical. The humble pie speech was absolutely the right thing to do. It’s exactly what is needed in the situation.
There is a certain point in time at which the speech has optimum impact. At that point, it can be devastating. That’s followed by a small window in which the speech holds up, but its potency is marginally diminished. After that it hits a steep curve of decreasing effectiveness, and sheds credibility by the hour. For Cherie, it was a case of right content, wrong time.