Posted by keith on March 10th, 2009
I must admit to a wry grin when I heard that UK Business Secretary (a very important minister of state) Peter Mandelson had been “slimed” with green custard prior to entering a conference in London to discuss “green” industry, on Friday 6 March. The protagonist, Leila Deen, certainly made a good shot, and not surprisingly, the incident was covered not just nationally, but internationally. The usual splits between the pro-environmental and anti-environmental press showed through, and many of the tabloids took the chance to make fun of one of the least popular British politicians of the last 20 years.
So what was the point of this? Superficially, Leila Deen, acting on behalf of the campaign group Plane Stupid, was making the point that they do not welcome the current pro-business stance of the UK government, in particular the decision to build a 3rd runway at London Heathrow Airport. At a slightly deeper level, it was a reflection on the state of politics in general – as Leila states:
Peter Mandelson epitomises all that is wrong with our democratic system. His CV is a reason for us to give up on democracy and take direct action. After several disgraces and resignations, Mandelson is back from exile in Europe to be shoe-horned into government as an unelected minister, via an archaic loophole which allows the Prime Minister to create peers and place them in power for his own political ends. This is what democracy in the UK looks like.
So the incident leaves a clear message that Mandelson and his ilk are not safe from environmental protestors and the watchfulness of the public in general — or does it? I’m not convinced: despite my immediate glee, the feeling I get from this is one of superficiality. The action, which Plane Stupid will accept was symbolic in all sorts of ways, went as well as it could possibly have done, yet all that is being discussed in the media now is the incident itself, not the reason for it. This is not surprising: the press are notoriously fickle about what makes a good story, and the nefarious goings-on between the UK Government and various industry lobbyists is not news, sadly. So we are left with a story about a woman who threw green custard at a government minister and is now on police bail. Furthermore, such opportunities for mischief-making — potentially a very effective thing, if you are able to make a public figure genuinely look bad — will now be curtailed even further because of this incident.
The lesson here is: don’t expect the media to do your work for you; you must keep on pushing and pushing, exposing the catalogue of corruption and never letting go on your key message. More important, though, it would be far better to concentrate your efforts on getting at the real villains of the piece: the lobbyists and the PR people themselves, without whom such corruption would be far less likely to take place. Target the PR machine and the channels though which the lobbyists are able to brainwash not just governments, but the public in general, and you can get away with a lot more than just an opportunistic custard lob: you can do some serious sabotage without anyone being any the wiser.
Which do you think is the more effective action?