Archive for November, 2010

Hyprocrisy stalks reaction to Panorama FIFA investigation

Posted in Media, Sport with tags , , , , , on November 30, 2010 by Tom Leatherbarrow

Contrary to much of what you will read this morning, there was plenty of new information in last night’s Panorama programme which exposed million dollar bribery and corruption in FIFA. The Sun, shamelessly, wraps itself in the flag and takes the opportunity to further News Corporation’s anti-BBC agenda declaring it has ‘sabotaged’ the bid. Inside, Ian Wright labels the programme, “brainless, betraying and cretinous” and “ridiculously unpatriotic”.

Much more surprising has been the reaction from some of our most respected journalists, who seem to have forgotten that they should be wielding the ‘simple sword of truth’ not aiding and abetting cover-ups.

Henry Winter in the Telegraph wrote this today. “Panorama have a right and duty to investigate, even into events a decade old, but sitting on the story until the eve of the World Cup vote smacked of cynical ratings-hunting.”

Er … well isn’t that what the media does Henry? Are we to believe that you have never written a negative story about a club or a manager designed to appear on the morning before a team plays? Are we to believe that if this information had come into your possession you would have sat on it until the cricket season?

What’s more, I’d be interested to know what your current employers, who spearheaded the investigations into MP’s expenses, think about this interpretation of your role as a respected journalist.

I’ll give you another good reason why Panorama got its timing absolutely right. Last night’s programme alleged that Jack Warner, a member of the FIFA Executive Committee ordered $84,240 worth of tickets for World Cup matches in South Africa this summer, in order to sell them on to ticket touts for a huge profit. Today, Mr Warner has breakfast with the Prime Minister.

Two realisations have dawned upon me in recent months. Firstly, England will never win the World Cup in my lifetime. The way the game is set up and governed in this country means that we will never produce the numbers of quality, technically adept, players needed to give the national team coach a realistic chance.

Secondly, England will never host the World Cup in my lifetime. The corruption that is rife within FIFA will see to it that the World Cup goes to those who line some very shady pockets in Zurich.

FIFA’s motto is “For the Good of the Game”, what a load of *’&#!

Unfortunately, Lord Young is probably right!

Posted in economics, Politics with tags , , , , on November 19, 2010 by Tom Leatherbarrow

The furor over Lord Young of Grafham’s comments over British standards of living are insensitive, likely to be viewed as Thatcherite and embarrassing to the Prime Minister – but he’s probably right!

For those not in the know, Lord Young is an unpaid adviser to the current Prime Minister having previously been at the Department of Trade and Industry under Margaret Thatcher. Beneath that kindly uncle exterior however lies an unreconstructed right winger who famously took on Norman Tebbit over the running of the 1987 Election Campaign. You’ve got to have some balls to do that!

Anyway, echoing Harold MacMillan’s famous words that “you’ve never had it so good” Lord Young has told the British public that historically low interest rates of 0.5 per cent mean that we are all paying back much less on our monthly mortgage costs which means that we’ve never had so much disposable income. As you can imagine, this has set off a right old battle with the current PM publicly distancing himself from the comments.

Intriguingly however, almost exactly the same argument was made to me by a client about a week ago, namely that low interest rates are a legal drug we are all going to have to wean ourselves off.

Why? Because the medium term risk is not a double-dip recession but inflation, due to the huge amounts of extra money that have been pumped into the economy, firstly via low interest rates and secondly by quantitative easing or printing money.

The traditional British blunt instrument for dealing with inflation has been higher interest rates which takes money out of people’s pockets. What are the timescales for this? Difficult to say but it is interesting to note that one member of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee voted in favour of a quarter point rise in rates at the last meeting.

Why then, if he is right, have his comments been received with such scorn? I suspect it’s because, despite the cash windfall many of us have chosen not to spend but to pay off credit card debts plus the state of the economy has left us worrying about job security. It may be that we have never had it so good, but unfortunately many of us are not feeling that great at the moment.

A message to the 2018 Bid Team: Welcome to my World

Posted in Sport with tags , , , on November 18, 2010 by Tom Leatherbarrow

The news that the chief executive of our 2018 World Cup bid has described the BBC’s decision to air a Panorama programme about corruption in FIFA on the eve of the decisive vote as ‘unpatrotic’ betrays a staggering arrogance and a total ignorance about media matters.

There are a number of points I would like to make. Firstly, since when does a non-elected official get to decide what is and what isn’t patriotic?

Secondly, if he didn’t know, this is how the media operates in this country. Journalists and broadcasters will decide content and timings. I, as a PR professional, will make suggestions as to stories and timings of stories but they are at liberty to ignore me.

Sometimes what the media does is infuriating and against an organisation’s best interest, but that’s tough. It’s the price of having a free press which is more than what our bid competitor Russia has.

Finally, all this, for me, has uncomfortable echoes of the Bush Administration’s reaction to dissent over the invasion of Iraq. It was a short walk from labeling any questioning of the decision to invade as unpatriotic to the passing of the Patriot Act, torture and Extraordinary Rendition, whereby the CIA, knowing full well that torture was unconstitutional in the USA, flew prisoners to other countries in order to waterboard them.

In short, the Bush Administration encouraged a culture of “anything goes in the name of national security”. I, for one, do not want a culture of “anything goes in the name of winning massive global sporting events, including bribery and backhanders”.

If that is the price of winning I’m not sure it’s worth entering. The BBC has to stand firm.

MPC Member: “We need to talk this up now”

Posted in economics with tags , , , on November 16, 2010 by Tom Leatherbarrow

Not my words but the words of one member of the Monetary Policy Committee to a client of mine a few weeks ago. The man in question, Andrew Sentance, is concerned that, despite all the ingredients being in place for economic recovery, we will manage to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

And he should be concerned if you look at today’s business pages dominated by the financial crisis (sorry ‘contagion’ must remember to be more hyperbolic) in Ireland.

However, it is noticeable that the negative news bias is increasingly bearing no relation to company and market performance. The FTSE 100 has moved up nearly 1,000 points since July and today’s company results show enormous progress across a swathe of sectors. EasyJet has seen profits triple in the last six months. ITV has seen revenues rise by 16 per cent due to an advertising recovery (yes you read that right, an advertising recovery!). Luxury fashion brand Burberry has reported a 49 per cent rise in first half profits. British Land reported a 4.2 per cent rise in net asset value.

These are all very positive results in sectors, namely luxury goods, air travel, property and advertising which have been, excuse my language, mullered in recent years.

So in my self-appointed role as the guardian of economic optimism, we need to heed Andrew Sentance’s words and start talking this up!

Sod austerity, I want a new sofa!

Posted in economics with tags , , , , on November 12, 2010 by Tom Leatherbarrow

I’m struck by the mixed messages coming from business at the moment. On the one hand I act for a company in the engineering sector who want to put out a release about how well their sales are going. On the other I hear from the MD of a consumer pharmaceuticals company that sales have fallen off a cliff in the last two months.

What is going on? I think it is becoming increasingly clear that this is going to be a two-speed recovery with B2B businesses coming out of it a bit quicker than those facing the consumer. In many respects this was to be expected as the Bank of England tries to deleverage consumer debt, at a slow but sustainable rate, to make sure that everything doesn’t go pear-shaped again.

However, that picture is not uniform across all sectors. I’m told furniture retailers are doing incredibly well at the moment (presumably the UK consumer has been unable to live with that lilac sofa a moment longer!) whilst I understand that one of the major contractors to the water industry has put everyone on a four day week due to concerns about the impact of spending cuts on Framework agreements.

Of course the big issue is the potential effect of the VAT increase on consumer confidence. Again, there are two differing views here, with the doom-mongers predicting the increase will be the final nail in the coffin.

My own view, that confidence is strong enough to ride the increase out, was reinforced by a client a few days ago. He believes that there are now such wide price bands on most products that consumers will just trade down to a cheaper option. Instead of that enormous 52 inch high definition TV which has to be bolted to the wall, many of us will settle for a more modest 42 inch for the time being.

So when the kids complain that they have got LEGO for Christmas instead of the new Xbox Kinect you should blame austerity measures. Of course they might spot a flaw in that argument when the new sofa arrives which you bought in the Boxing Day sales to avoid the 1st January VAT rise.

Good luck explaining that one.

Revolt of the Middle Classes

Posted in Politics with tags , on November 11, 2010 by Tom Leatherbarrow

Yesterday’s riots at Conservative Party HQ could spell trouble for this Government and not just because some party officials have got barricaded in their offices. If today’s front page of the Daily Mail is right then a middle class student protest march was hijacked by the lunatic fringe. Despite most of today’s papers majoring on the latter the important bit is that middle class students are marching at all, because if they are angry at the potential increase in fees then you can bet their parents are furious!

Danny Finkelstein of The Times on Breakfast TV this morning all but admitted that the Coalition was going to struggle to pass the necessary legislation, likening the revolt to the Poll Tax which angered Middle England and ushered in the end of Thatcher.

I’m not sure it’s that bad yet, but a crackdown on benefit cheats is something the middle classses can support, saddling their children with circa £40,000 debt for a degree is another thing entirely.

Whilst this is much more than a communication issue, my own sense is that a lack of joined-up thinking is compounding the problem. On the one hand we have the Prime Minister telling us that we can’t leave future generations to pay the bill for high levels of public sector debt, hence the austerity measures, whilst on the other he is proposing to saddle future generations with high levels of personal debt in order to get a degree. That’s what Henry Kissinger called a credibility gap you could drive a bus through.

A client of mine had an interesting take on it this morning. Much better he said would have been to question why everyone had to go to University in the first place. Would he take on young people without a degree I asked? “Yes” he replied, in fact he is so disappointed with the quality of graduate CVs coming across his desk that he is currently in the process of setting up links with local schools to identify ‘A’ level students who can be brought into his business and given the necessary training in-house along with a clear career path.

That is the message the Government should have been putting over, namely that University is one of a number of paths your career can take. Instead it has managed to wrap up education into a wider argument about public sector debt. That’s not clever and it is a mistake the likes of Alastair Campbell would never have made.