How the Bell Pottinger scandal made me think about Public Relations as a force for good and the inherent challenge of moral relativism

The Bell Pottinger row got me thinking about wider issues 

I’d imagine most people involved in the UK PR industry and many more around the world are aware of the situation around Bell Pottinger and their involvement in the deeply complex post Apartheid political dynamic in South Africa.

This is not an article about the Bell Pottinger scandal. I don’t know enough about what happened. There’s a lot of covering going on. I’m not a South African expert in any way shape or form.

The reaction to the situation has driven a bout of self reflection by a lot of highly respected comms consultants. The commentary all comes down to a few apparently simple questions that the PR and comms industry has been asking themselves for some time. How does PR create value? How do we best interact with a range of “publics”? What is acceptable corporate behaviour? Do we have responsibilities to our industry and publics?

As someone who fell into the communications industry following the realisation that I didn’t have what it took to make it in investment banking or diplomacy; I still feel like an outsider, especially on the occasions I put my thoughts on paper. I haven’t studied PR as an academic subject and my professional experience is through a series of specialised roles that demand either capital markets and / or geopolitical understanding. I therefore don’t necessarily know the rules of the wider game and can no doubt appear somewhat naïve or ill informed to wide sections of the PR / communications industry.

My reactions are based on personal experience of similar work, including a stint at B-P and reading the thoughts of more experienced industry practitioners, such as the links at the bottom of this article.

Something went very wrong on a well remunerated strategic communications project of the sort that is far more common in our industry than many PR practitioners might realise. It has given the industry pause for thought and has driven a lot of us to examine the way we look at PR as an industrial discipline. What conclusions can we draw?

 

PR’s reputational challenges whilst operating in a globalised economy

One of the reactions to the B-P situation has been to reassert a common aspiration within the PR & communications community that PR can be a force for good. That we can be the soul and conscience for an organisation and that PR & communications can help mould organisations into better citizens.

This is an entirely legitimate point of view and I agree with much of the aspiration behind it. An effective grasp of the potential of communications can make an organisation more focussed and effective in reaching its goals. An understanding of the wider needs of its publics and hardwiring them into its operations can have significant benefits for the organisation, its people and the balance sheet.

However, who defines what is moral and a force for good? How far along the value chain should PR advisors go to work out if they are genuinely on the right side, or whether they are part of what could be considered a reputational laundering structure?

We live in an increasingly interconnected world. Old certainties that we understood who we were doing business with and why are gone. Industrial supply chains have diversified, capital moves around the world at the speed of light and our socioeconomic and cultural certainties have also changed, as we now operate within a far more diverse community than was the case 20 years ago. To be a successful global business you have to have high standards but you also have to be able to work with a multitude of diverse communities whose sociological / philosophical background might not match your own.

There are numerous tools and cut outs that allow international communications consultancies to feel more comfortable about certain sorts of work. Generally it’s about putting space between the consultancy and the ultimate beneficiary of the work. It could be a foundation; a stock market listing; a trade association; or a seemingly strictly delineated brief – all of these cut outs avoid the contentious stuff and appear to focus on apolitical, non contentious themes such as investment or diversity or competition.

Step back a bit however and this sort of projects can be seen as part of a wider pattern by a sovereign state, multi national corporation or ultra high net worth individual to project an alternate, more positive narrative, or to distract attention from some local unpleasantness.

The system therefore benefits three parties: the cut out itself that will benefit from the communications consultancy; the comms provider that will be paid handsomely and finally the “beneficial owner” whose wider reputation will be enhanced by the service, if only tangentially. In fact for the cut out to be a truly successful communications platform, it has to be seen to be successful in its own right, otherwise it’s transparency as a PR platform undermines its original purpose.

 

The challenges of moral relativism

This system allows international consultancies to operate within a globalised commercial system. The system both acknowledges the challenges that are inherent to cross cultural commerce and finds a legitimate solution that meets the needs of the majority of parties and stakeholders.

Once you start on the road of moral judgement, the endpoint is difficult to discern. Where do we draw the line? Why should PR providers be singled out for such a challenge? Lawyers, accountants, bankers and other service providers that offer a combination of C-suite strategic counsel and a commoditised suite of tactical operations do not appear to be going through similar existential angst.

A few examples of entirely legitimate and legally approvable work that might be challenged by the need to follow a more moralistic approach:

• Should we refuse ANY mandate from certain sovereign states or their paratstals (another sort of cut out) because of their involvement in (to us) morally challenging issues such as military conflicts, or their internal policies that us appear discriminatory but to them follows the teaching of their religion?

• Should we as PRs, refuse work from companies that generate power through burning coal, despite the multitude of evidence to show that it both damages the environment and kills people through higher levels of pollution derived respiratory disease?

• Armaments is a morally challenging industry, given what they are for and more specifically who buys them. When fuel air, cluster munitions or urban pacification tools are put in the hands of certain regimes, bad things can happen. It could be argued that the arms industry runs PR programmes to help clean some of that dirt off and ensure that they are not regulated to the point of significant damage to their balance sheet.

• Tobacco has been a constant challenge for the PR industry since the linkage between smoking and cancer became accepted. It’s not just a moral issue though. You probably can’t work for Philip Morris and Glaxo. You have to choose.

When it comes down to it, we all have our own “sniff test”. Some people have a sensitive nose and cannot stand the smell. For others it’s got to be really bad before they back out.
Speaking to a range of my peers and senior PR practitioners whilst preparing this piece, what is clear is that there are very few moral absolutes. Some would work for tobacco but not arms. Some would work for X country but not Y.

As mentioned, this bout of soul searching in PR is not necessarily shared in other industries. Much of the work I used to do as a communications consultant is increasingly becoming part of the management consultancy offering – in part because it dovetails neatly with their risk / corporate structure / fundraising / HR offerings and can be done by small teams for significant fees. It’s as likely that the same advice will be given by Mckinsey, or Deloitte as Bell Pottinger or Ketchum (two of my previous employers).

Perhaps this shows the direction of travel for the industry? Either willingly or due to a lack of care, this sort of business could be lost to a different industry.

I’m going to conclude with an example from a BBC comedy sketch show that makes my point and exaggerates for comic effect. It’s a discussion between two Waffen SS officers who are trying to work out whether they “are the baddies” – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hn1VxaMEjRU

 

Some more reading on the subject:

https://2tribesgotojaw.wordpress.com/2017/07/21/2-tribes-in-pr-an-honest-trade-in-changing-minds/amp/

https://themediaonline.co.za/2017/07/in-the-wake-of-the-bell-pottinger-fallout-what-price-reputation/?platform=hootsuite

http://paulseaman.eu/2017/07/bell-pottinger-south-africa-a-reality-check/?platform=hootsuite

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/ethics-where-do-we-draw-line-ella-minty-foundchartpr-mcipr-miod

http://www.prweek.com/article/1440687/4-lessons-agencies-learn-bell-pottinger-scandal

 

 

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I’ve tried cynicism, but I still love the Lions

I’ve written before, at significant length about my love affair with the British & Irish Lions rugby team.

Something I’ve found new and interesting about the current tour has been driven by my addiction to social media. Since the last tour I’ve well and truly engaged with various social media portals, one of which almost got me fired, but that’s another story.

I follow and engage with a lot of Irish rugby fans on Twitter, given my love of Munster Rugby. I was initially surprised at their hostility to the Lions, both the concept and reality. From the rugby point of view, I can understand a certain amount of cynicism. Stepping back, it’s perhaps not so surprising.

The sport has become infinitely more complex since the turn to professionalism. It is nigh on impossible for a scratch team, no matter how good the players are, to play flowing, attractive, attacking rugby and win a test series against the best team in the world. The Lions therefore have to play a somewhat limited game if they want to be successful. This can lead to a certain level of cynicism about the enterprise and its ability to entertain,

However this tends to be a secondary argument from my fellow Munster / Irish loving tweeps. At the heart of the issue, is a feeling that the Lions is a colonial jaunt that wants to bring Ireland back into the British fold and pretend that 1917 never happened.

Or something like that. I may be simplifying for reasons of space, time and comedic effect.

This then leads to he argument that there’s no room for the Lions in modern rugby due to both this issue and the scratch team point mentioned above – and the fact that it weakens Irish rugby as the best players come back injured and knackered. Also, in years past there was an argument that Irish players might have learned new techniques from the process; however given the improvement in Irish provincial and national teams, this argument has far less weight, especially when balanced against the other negatives, especially the injury one. Munster can’t afford to loose any of its Lions.

At its heart however, I think that the general complaint against the Lions from my Munster / Irish following friends is that

1. This team does represent me

2. The aggressive marketing being shoved down my throats emphasises the fact that this team does not represent me

3. The British, but particularly English media coverage of past tours has emphasised the British nature of the Lions and has quickly turned on some Irish players. Ronan O’Gara is often cited as a player who got far more stick than he deserve by British media that opened historical wounds.

As an ethnically British / Irish onetime historian and COIN analyst I get all this. It’s entirely understandable. Of course there’s the complication that the Irish rugby team isn’t the team of the Republic; it’s an all island team. Some of the team will consider God Save the Queen as their anthem, not the Soldiers Song. Then there’s the point that proud Irishmen such as ROG, Keith Wood, Brian O’Driscoll, Paul O’Connell and the Wallace brothers are entirely committed to the Lions concept, despite the pretty horrible treatment he got whilst wearing the shirt.

As a rugby fan, I’m not optimistic about the Lions’s chances in NZ. It’s statistically the hardest place to go for anyone, let alone a scratch team. The Lions shouldn’t have a chance. They should really lose every test and most of the provincial matches.

In fact, at the start of this tour, I might have shared some of these feelings, especially the naked commercialisation and money making drive that is a little bit too obvious for my liking. I don’t like sporting financial juggernauts. Of course everyone needs to make a living and the tour has to be paid for, but in he same way that Munster in combination with a willing media might have created something of a myth about the team as brand, the mythos of the Lions feels more and more artificial. I don’t like being sold to, and this is very aggressive selling.

Then there was the first few games where the Lions looked poor and I became more pessimistic and cynical. I was mentally preparing myself for the same disappointment I’d had last time the Lions toured NZ and trying not to care.

And then

I decided to stop being a cynic, around the time the Lions started looking like they might have become a team.

I revelled in some of the old stories being told about 89 and 97. I loved the fact that Munster scrum half Connor Murray was playing really well. Then there’s the story of Peter O Mahony. He’s gone from being on the bench for Ireland to the Lions test captain via a heart wrenching year for Munster. There’s a scriptwriter sitting down at his desks now to write the incredible conclusion.

The three provincial / Maori wins have given the Lions a sense of purpose and a roadmap of how they might be successful. A sickeningly suffocating and powerful pack will tie up opponents and put the All Blacks on the back foot, where their dazzling back line will not be as effective. Behind the pack, moves are beginning to work, passes are sticking and tries are being scored.

They probably won’t win but their odds are shifting every day they spend together.

Also, all that stuff I wrote about loving the Lions concept remains true. I treasure my memories of watching games with my Dad and now my wife. This will be the first series that Aidan knows what’s going on. For a committed romantic like me, lost causes like a rugby tour to NZ are perfect.

Then there’s my own identity. I’m a half English, half Irish rugby nut that has never felt entirely at home at Twickenham and the Barbour Brigade in the West Car Park. I own numerous rugby shirts. Two London Irish, one Munster, three Lions, one Team GB Olympics, one Biarritz. Note the one missing? I love the idea that centuries of bad shit can be put aside in an impossible dream of taking on the best in the world and making something better out of the best of four countries.

I’ve given up on cynicism until the tour is over. Come on lads, shove the blacks around the park and shoe the shit out of them if they lie over the ball.

“Lions, Lions, Lions, Lions”

The Camberwell Arms

Sometimes you need to go back and try again.

The Camberwell Arms has become the Blewer family (Camberwell branch) HQ for birthday food and drink for about 2 years now. We’ve enjoyed probably five or more great afternoons there, but this story starts with me swearing I’d never go back.

Over the years, we did a bit of circling around, with numerous visits to the Anchor & Hope on the Cut, Pizarro in Bermondsey and Franklins in East Dulwich. All have their significant charms and have been reviewed here. However due in part to logistics (most of us live in Sutton), cost and the need to find a child friendly option, we tried the Camberwell Arms.

The first time we went, on the longish (if you have a toddler and a baby with you) walk back to Denmark Hill station I was pretty much set that I wasn’t going back, or if I did it would be adults only. Aidan & Hannah had both decided that day that they didn’t want to stay seated, didn’t really want any of the food and didn’t want to be there. The numerous adults took turns in distracting them so we could all eat but it remains my most stressful restaurant experience (apart from a night in Moscow that is best not mentioned in polite company).

We were in the secondary room with a very large party adjacent and there was a lot of coming and going, which meant the kids had to stay at the table. The large party meant the the waitress upstairs was hard to get hold of and the kitchen was under pressure and our food took a long time. Neither Kirsty or I had had much sleep for months, what with Hannah being so young and our patience was as thin as a spider’s thread. It snapped on the walk and then quite long journey home.

This has been pretty much the issue for all of the restaurants mentioned, due to where my part of the family lives (Sutton), a civilised lunch in SE1 or SE5 is pretty much in the middle of nap time. Driving sort of managed this but it meant no drink for one of us, which we’d agreed to knock on the head. Kirsty and I knew this, and knew what happened if the kids didn’t nap. No sleep for us that night.

I know all of this sounds like a spoiled middle class #firstworldproblem, but sleep deprivation is used as an interrogation. Any parents reading this will understand the challenge. You want to spend time with your family and have a nice time, but you’re so effing tired and stressed that the smallest things set you off.

Anyway, I wasn’t going back. Then it was booked again and Dad and my Uncle Mark were both really looking forward to it and I couldn’t suggest somewhere else. The best I could do was ask for as late a start as possible so that Hannah could sleep.

You’ve probably guessed now that it worked. Hannah fell asleep on the walk down from the Station. They serve passable Guinness and always have a local pale ale in hand pump. We all looked at the menus and as I now feel every time I walk in, I thought “yum”.

For many years the CA was part of the Anchor & Hope stable which had an an effective formula. Find a grotty boozer in a previously rough but now up and coming part of S London. Add a lick of paint & mismatching furniture. Decent if slightly odd wine list. The kitchen serves rustic, trencherman type food that is WAY above usual pub standards as what looks simple requires very high level sourcing and serious technique in the kitchen. All of the group were sort of hybrid pubs where you could just go for a beer but the reality is they made their names as places to eat in the shell of a former pub that retained the ambience of a London boozer without really being one.

Service is friendly and professional. These guys know their job, put you at ease and serve the food with no fuss whatsoever. They’re enthusiastic about the product without trying to be evangelists or your best mate. They’re very understanding of our needs with two small kids, for which we are always grateful.

The Camberwell Arms has recently exited the group but at the moment the style remains and I really hope this continues. Exceptional silky, porky home made charcuterie, including really lovely rich rillettes and home pickled cornichons is a statement of intent matched by the scotch bonnet and pork fat on sourdough toast. Big meaty flavour served by a kitchen at knows what it’s doing.

Starters tend to be rustically presented but actually are quite delicate at least compared to the mains. The house cured smoked salmon and crisp bead is sweet, salty, fatty and serious, with thick slices, noseclearing horseraddish and again house pickles complementing it well. Babaganouj that is the equal of anywhere I’ve had in Levant, Gulf or Maghreb is served with griddled bread that’s like a bbqued pillow. I could eat about two kilos of this stuff.

Main courses tend to be big lumps of protein cooked perfectly with a sauce that demands good staff in the kitchen. Take my most recent main. A massive roast pork chop that had a big strip of crackling. Served on wilted greens with he best roast potato / chip type spuds you can find in London and a sauce based that was romanescoish that I want to buy in pots. I’ve had a similar but lighter dish with whole roast quail.

They do bigger dishes to share; a rabbit pie sticks in my mind from the first visit as a reason to come back. Spit roasted roast chicken and trimmings to be shared by groups of 2-4 depending on the size of bird. The fish always looks perfectly cooked, because this is an excellent kitchen that wouldn’t dream of serving anything other. Pearly flakes of white meaty fish, often with a buttery accompaniment are a staple of the menu. I’m a carnivore so tend to avoid but my mum regularly leaves a Top Cat style skeleton on an empty plate.

By the time you get to desert, you’re full, but they don’t let the side down. A short list of puds that are all made on site are always tempting and tasty. Home made ice creams normally do for me, often a tart and refreshing flavour, last time it was cherry and was great. They have calvados behind the bar that is young and apple-ey and pretty fiery. It’s calva not Somerset cider brandy so there’s enough velvet to dampen the fire but it delivers the big boozy hit that you want at the end of a great meal.

That’s what we’ve had every time. A great meal. Our kids have got older and we box clever on timings which has made the whole experience easier but at the heart of things this is a brilliant local restaurant that is more gastro than pub. I’d say I wished I lived closer but actually I quite like the fact we only go a few times a year as it gives the place a sense of occasion and makes it feel special.

The Camberwell Arms deserves this because that’s what it is, special.

I’m pleased we went back.

I have never been this angry at a political decision

Anyone that knows me knows that I’m a fairly standard middle class liberal leftie. A champagne (pinot noir heavy please) socialist.

I am very interested in politics but I’m not political because I cant find a party that I believe in enough to make concessions to my beliefs.

For instance, I was genuinely disturbed by corbyn’s long term dalliance with global revolutionary forces that he made sound like freedom fighters but are actually sickening and cynical murderers. Chavez, PIRA, Castro etc  It’s a major reason I’m wary of Corbyn. I like a lot of his domestic policy but on foreign and defence his ideology driven position don’t work for me.

But now the Tories have outdone themselves. By doing a deal with the DUP, I’ve found a politicial situation that has made me so angry it makes me feel physically sick.

Forget the hypocrisy of the DUP deal. It’s frustrating but all politicians can be slippery and campaigning doesn’t mean telling the truth.

However the DUP deal is a moral obscenity for three reasosns.

1- it potentially breaks the Good Friday Agreement. The issues that drove decades long conflict have not been eradicated. It could start again. Anything that raises tension, especially given the failure of Stormomt should be very carefully considered. One of the reasons there’s been (more or less) stability in Ulster is that there is the perception that neither side has an advantage in Westminster. Whether the DUP gets an advantage or not, the optics are terrible.

2 – the DUP have some deeply illiberal policies that are founded in their religious beliefs which are fundamentally opposite to wider eng / Welsh & Scottish law. Religious morality has largely been removed from the UK’s political process for what I feel are good liberal reasons. In a multi cultural liberal democracy, basing legislation on religious dogma feel like a dangerous timewarp.

3- finally the DUP is inextricably connected to odious paramilitary groups such as the UDA. These groups still exist, remain well organised and armed and are funded by the proceeds of organised crime such as drug dealing. There are suggestions that UDA men are instrumental in getting the DUP vote out and making sure the community votes DUP not UUP or god forbid Alliance.

Through my MA I developed a fair understanding of the different combatant parties in Ulster during operation Bannner. All parties did horrendous things. It would be wtong to think of the Loyalist Paramilitaries as anything other than brutal and ruthless people who did truly appalling things.

Considering these issues, the thought that any party would use an alliance with the DUP to prop up a minority government for a short time is frankly sickening.

I’ve never been as angry about anything on UK politics as I am about this. I’m seething that for what can only be a short term hold on power, the Tories are putting so much at risk.

I don’t know what the solution is or when I will calm down but for now I’m finding it an interesting sensation; actually caring about UK politics.

 

The Guinea Grill, Mayfair

I’ve been drinking in the Guinea on and off, for over 15 years, depending on where I or clients are based. It’s a small, gloriously old fashioned Youngs boozer that has (I think) the classic picture of the Queen Mum and / or Charles pouring a pint, all the Youngs beers you’d expect and a very mixed clientele.

I’ve drunk in there with working class sth London boys made good and not so good; aristocratic ex guards officers, oil and mining types, journalists, bankers, mercenaries and spooks. Basically it’s a local boozer that services a diverse community, and does so very well, providing a discreet boot hole for a swift pint or an all day session.

The light and bitter is very good, even if I’m the only person that drinks it. Well kept Ordinary that is always perfectly clear and if I’m lucky and get one of the new staff, I can persuade them to serve me an old fashioned measure. Sorry Osh. The Guinness is probably the best in a mile or so and at lunch they have truly exceptional old fashioned pies (steak & kidney/ mushroom) and an outstanding oxtail sandwich that has shaved horseradish that is a cure for the common cold.

It’s recently been taken over by a new guvnor, an Irishman who London is fortunate enough to have received some time ago. He used to have the Ship at Wandsworth which was always a grand place in the rugby season and has enhanced the Guinea with an eye for detail and a bit of spit, polish and staff training. Most professional reviewers say he’s good at his s job, I’m not arguing.

So far, this is a review of a seemingly discreet boozer (it’s in a sort of alley of Berkeley Square) that lots of people know about. It can be heavingly busy of a Thursday evening, Friday lunch or anytime around Christmas. The difference is what’s behind the pub.

If you are a few years younger than me, you probably can’t imagine London without Hawksmoor. You could be forgiven for thinking that they introduced the idea of a top quality British steakhouse to London. Their PR has done a good job in creating this perception, especially as previous and slightly less grand competitors such as Chez Gerrard bit the dust and Gaucho pushes the Argentine brand hard. I’m not complaining, I’m a big fan and I remain very grateful to them for many good meals and drinks. Particularly drinks, they do great cocktails.

However before Hawksmoor there was The Guinea Grill. It’s a singularly old school British / Irish take on how to serve grilled and roast meat, something they do as well as anywhere in London – with the benefit of the onsite pub as well.

Due in part to the location, there’s muted wooden panels, velvet cushioned chairs, silver service, buttered & creamed veg and a wine list hefty enough to facilitate GBH on either a fellow diner or your wallet. The list itself is what you’d expect; a top quality traditional selection. I tend to continue drinking beer as I’ll be going back to work, but there’s some good stuff on it, including a longtime personal favourite, Musar, which is a slightly racy but imaginative addition, not seen as much as it should be.

One’s fellow punters are almost all chaps; very old Mayfair, to the point my chippy sarf London half Irish persona gets turned up to 10. Every time I walk in, I feel like a bit of an outsider, then I realise I’ve worked in energy and capital markets for a long time and this is a community of which I’m part.

And then the food and drink starts and all my chippyness falls away because it’s so bloody good. The happy contended hum of a small dining room sharing a very good lunch is a great thing. Even the bread and butter is an exampler of what bread and butter is meant to be. Chewey and yeasty balanced by rich cream. Yum.

I’m yet to have a starter or desert, because I can’t afford to nap after lunch; but you come here for the meat. The steak is as good as it gets. The thing with this sort of food is there’s nowhere to hide. Source great meat. Cook it on a hot grill with necessary seasoning. Trad sides such as spinach and chips or even fried eggs must not trample over the main event, but must be simple and therefore they are either perfect or not good enough. The Guinea does it right time after time. I particularly like the bearnaise, which has a nice tang to balance the richness.

There’s pretty much all cuts available, and a wider menu that has more trad grill classics such as chops, a pretty hefty looking mixed grill, beef wellington and the same pies you get in the pub.

There’s also the best private room in London which would be great for big birthday party, or as I did a few years ago, a massive blowout following completion of a testing work project.

So, in conclusion, it’s a great little boozer with a very good old school grill room behind it, run by a talented manager and team who make sure you feel welcomed.

As an online sparring partner suggested recently with (I hope) more humour than snark, “why don’t you work remotely from there paddy?”

Trumpageddon may be some way off; a few thoughts on CI and financial crime investigations

A lot of people on my social media streams are getting rather excited about #Trumpageddon and whether we are closing in on an endgame. Are we reaching the point where evidence can build to a point where the political commentary gives way to legal process?

Social and 24/7 media emphasises everything that might be wrong with the Trump Administration (I really want to call it a regime). Global media orgs are busting a gut to proclaim the next exclusive and get as many eyeballs on their variety of portals. It’s becoming something of an arms race; which media org has the hottest of takes?

The story is self nourishing due to the remarkable series of events and the way Trump and his team have attempted to manage the situation. It must be great fun for the journalists covering it, but the way media organisations are jumping on the issue, you’d think that something is going to happen NOW and we have to keep our eyes on their portal to get the news. It’s becoming a commercial driver for them – clicks = $. In my experience $ can effect objectivity.

It’s the same on social media. If you’re of a generally liberal bent, your social media echo chamber is probably full of “this is another nail in the coffin” post. Trump must go. Putin is pulling the strings. etc etc.

However, something that grabs me as a onetime student of intelligence and then spending a career advising post soviet related corporate and financial affairs, is that whilst the dénouement to situations appears to suddenly happen, there’s often a very long gestation period.

This situation could almost be designed as a perfect storm for investigators and prosecutors.

Both CI investigations and international financial corruption are infamous for the time necessary to compile a case that has a good chance meeting the requirements of due process to even get into court, let alone win the case.

It’s worth remembering that we’re not dealing with an average criminal audience. In some of the classic cases (Kim Philby, Aldrich Aymes, BCCI, Enron) the authorities were dealing with an exceptionally sophisticated opposition who were aware of both the minutiae of the relevant law, and how to find loopholes necessary to do what they wanted. They had planned a strategic operation. They considered not only how to make the operation secret and successful, but how to protect themselves in case of hostile penetration (stop sniggering at the back), incompetence or betrayal.

On the financial side, even when investigators / regulators etc are sure that something morally or even legally compromising has happened, it can be very hard to prove in court. International and domestic corporate law allows for multiple layers of entirely legal corporate vehicles and beneficial ownership structures, which consequently make it exceptionally complicated to demonstrate the flow of assets from Mr X to Mr Y. I’ve seen this numerous times in the post soviet space with acquisition of energy or resource assets. Everyone knows that Mr Y is acquiring an asset, but you’d never know from reading the prospectus.

Then there’s the issue of protecting intelligence sources. The WW2 Allies made a conscious decision not to attack certain targets (eg Concentration Camps) to protect the integrity of the crown jewel of Allied Intelligence, “Ultra”; the ability to read German signals traffic in real time. Many CI investigations will get to a point where a decision has to be made about the cost / benefit of going ahead with a case that may risk an intel asset or capability.

So my point is this. Yes, there’s a hell of a lot of circumstantial evidence flying around that makes the Trump Administration look at least incompetent, or a willing fool, or even knowing tool of a hostile foreign actor.

None of this however necessarily means that we are particularly close to a legal / regulatory / political endgame. In a novel or film, corners are cut. People are disappeared in dramatic twists. However, in what appears to be a situation without precedent, the importance of due process cannot be ignored. Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion.

I don’t know whether we’re at the end of the beginning or the start of the middle. Unless things are far more advanced that would appear (and if so, Chapeau to FBI and wider US IC) we are nowhere near the end yet.

Why Brexit communications make me concerned at a lack of vision

I’ve just deleted 400 words explaining why I don’t agree with Brexit that I realised is superfluous. That’s not the point of this blog. The point of this blog is that from the perspective of the communications consultant I have no idea what either the UK Government, or the wider pro Brexit establishment, actually want to gain from Brexit.

I’m not questioning whether it was the right or wrong thing. The votes were cast and a majority of the population that voted chose to leave the EU.

In general, government communications will give a steer as to preferred outcomes of diplomatic engagement. However, despite the geopolitical, legal, social and economic consequences at stake, at the moment I’ve no clue as to whether HMG has a vision of the UK’s place in the global system. What is the overall strategic objective? What are its ideal, neutral and worst case scenarios realistic scenarios and how will this effect my family’s well being?

Comments such as going back to the Commonwealth, the Anglosphere and even worse “empire 2.0” demonstrate a lack of understanding of how international trade works, the position of the UK in the global economy and the perception of the UK in the countries that used to be run from Whitehall until the middle of the 20th Century. See here for some interesting ONS statistics: http://visual.ons.gov.uk/commonwealth-trade-in-focus-as-uk-prepares-for-brexit/

Then there’s the Irish issue which is not really about the Brexit arguments that have been made in England, but about how the Island of Ireland should function on an economic, trade, social and political level. Brexit is the catalyst for a new conversation about partition, unionism and the future direction of sovereignty on the Island, which Westminster seems singularly unwilling to consider, but whilst they close their eyes and ears, other parties are making the case for change. I don’t think we’ll see a return to the 70s and 80s, but things could get bad quickly. Ostriches that stick their heads in the sand can have their arses shot off.

I’m sure some Brexit supporters will tell me that I’m being unduly negative and that my support for Remain is blinding me to the potential for the UK once it’s free from the EU, or that my Irish connections make me unpatriotic. Then there’s the public affairs advisors that will say “why shouldn’t HMG keep their powder dry until negotiations actually start? You wouldn’t give away your M&A strategy until you make your offer would you?”

I’m not sure I buy either argument. Politics is generally about selling a vision of the future, even if it’s pretty broad brush stuff. I’m just not seeing anything other than the blandest generalities that have little or no meaning. The lack of communication of any sort of detailed vision makes me feel there is a general lack of confidence in a strategy that is already announced. This in of itself invalidates the M&A argument. The initial offer has been made. Now is the time to get shareholders on side.

My genuine concern is that with the massive task approaching them, they are like a rabbit in the headlights, unable to make a decision until the oncoming HGV (probably a Mercedes of VW) crushes it.

I hope they’re just playing clever. I don’t think they are.