In the powerful corridors of Downing Street, Tony Blair was addressed as ‘Boss’ by his staff, but to everybody else, he was the Prime Minister (PM) of the United Kingdom.
To the British media, he was perhaps more than a boss and a PM blended in an eloquent and intelligent politician who spoke his mind with an all-consuming conviction. When asked whether he regretted some of the decisions he made as PM, he was loquaciously philosophical and erudite as ever. He told a rumbling sea of journalists in front of No. 10 Downing Street: “…When a leader decides, he divides.” A leader cannot please everybody. Certainly, Tony Blair didn’t please everybody during his 10-year political governorship of Britain. Many didn’t forgive him for his role in the Iraq war. I didn’t.
Blair’s Communications Director, Alistair Campbell, helped the PM to manage the media very well. During a serious press conference, a lady journalist stood up and asked: “Prime Minister, would you have me now?” Tony dignified the invitation with an equally ‘naughty’ response: “Anytime.” On another occasion, one of Britain’s finest journalists asked him about rumours that he may have done botox. Tony smiled and exclaimed: “What, look at my forehead. What…” He smiled again. Tony had a funny side to his very professional handling of the media. When asked whether his wife, Cherie, was top of her class, he replied in the affirmative. “What position did you place” came the impatient follow up: “Oh no, I am not telling you that”. Then, he smiles, well grins.
There is a way to work the media if a politician wants to succeed in the job. Blair writes in his memoirs that he wore the same black shoes to Prime Minister’s Question Time for 10 years. That was no issue to the British media. Well, that made better fashion sense than wearing a woman’s overcoat to Germany. The BBC made fun of Asiedu Nketiah’s fashion mess and praised how the NDC General Secretary also joined in the fun by responding that he had started a new fashion trend by wearing his wife’s coat. The media is a darling adversary that must be courted with caution. We need them just as much as we hate them. You may kiss the media but don’t fall in love with them.
Enter Ghana’s Minister of Youth and Sports, Mr Mahama Ayariga. I would not run a horse and a coach through (openly lambast) Mr Ayariga. Well, on this occasion, however, I would refer him to his President and urge him to copy his media ways. You never use the word ‘nonsense’ under any circumstances during a media encounter. But if you must, you must find an intelligent way of saying ‘nonsense’ without actually spelling it. Journalists are not dumb; they would get it.
Even before he became Prime Minister, David Cameron had schooled himself on how to be firm without affirming exactly what he wants to affirm, especially if that affirmation would offend certain sensibilities. The question about why he changed his name during his schooldays was not exactly relevant to the discussion on his vision for Britain but Stephen Sackur asked him on Hard Talk. Now, here is Cameron’s smart response: “Hard Talk is known for better and smarter questions than this...Let’s do serious business here, Stephen.” Sackur quickly went onto the next question. Clever politicians know and appreciate the power and influence of journalists, and they treat media people with respect. Smart politicians know that while it is nice to be important, so as to not appear too pedestrian to a very discerning voting public, it is also very important to be nice to the people who voted for you.
Otherwise, why would the almost impenetrable security apparatus of President Barack Obama look on while a pizza seller lifts the President up and dangles him in the air? Oh yeah, Obama’s legs were in the air. People matter, no matter how they express their matter. You owe the people the mandate you carry as a politician. You derive your power from the people. When they call you, you must answer, and when they call you again, you would not hang up on them because the time is not right or the question doesn’t make sense. That is politics. It’s a game, and most savvy politicians have learnt to play along for sheer peace of mind.
True, the press could sometimes be very funny, annoying and too intrusive. Many of us do not know how to seek answers from our subjects, and we ask the wrong questions the wrong way. Not many of us can ask intelligent questions like Andrew Marr or Andrew Rawnsley or David Ampofo. Often we are naively inquisitorial when there is absolutely nothing to inquire about. We abuse our authority when we set out to make a dissention out of a doit (magnify little issues to afford them unmerited importance). In the end, we succeed in disgracing people others hold dear, but we also end up fiddling while Rome burns, that is neglecting priorities to concentrate on stupid trifles.
The best way for a politician to deal with superfluous nonsense is not to attack your subjects but to carefully dissolve or parry an offensive query by deploying tact and skill to save the situation and himself. If John Prescott, Tony Blair’s deputy, had exercised this kind of discretion, he would have saved himself and his career the damage when he physically assaulted a young man for throwing egg at him. Nobody remembers the young man’s name, but everybody remembers the name of the Deputy British Prime Minister who lost his cool and beat up a young man in public.
At this point, Mahama Ayariga does not need any tutorials on how to deal with the media. Heck, he is a former minister of Media Relations. And it seems too late to apologise to a pretentious and forgetful fraternity of people who have learnt to overlook their faults in order to spot the failings around them. What the young politician needs to do is to reflect, recant and reform. For, there are many events in the womb of time.
Source: Kwesi Tawiah-Benjamin [email protected]
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