A quintessentially British media storm swelled around the latest terror plot arrests this week.
To recap, the leading anti-terrorism policeman in the land inexplicably walked into Number 10 with a dossier on the next possible plot clearly visible to the close-by prying lenses. When blown up in resplendent digital glory, the unconcealed top sheet, headed “secret”, displayed full details, obviously now no longer secret.
And so on to rounds of television studio talking heads, expressing either dismay or support for the beleaguered officer.
The culprit resigned the next morning. Another person who fared badly in the winds was Opposition Home Affairs spokesman Chris Grayling. He looks a man out of his depth in such environs or, to be charitable, is in need of serious media training.
Grayling spent most of the day condemning the mistake, but always falling short of demanding the head. When, as each interview inevitably concluded, he was pressed on whether the axe should fall, his flawed stance was brutally exposed. He flopped and flailed with embarrassing squirm every time.
Yet this isn’t a tale about having a developed, reasonable, understandable, acceptable point and sticking to it without grandstanding.
The real brute was when Grayling encountered former socialist firebrand and London Mayor until just last year, (Red) Ken Livingstone. The typically wily Paxman connivingly left them to it.
For further background, a recent precedent was cited where a mandarin left sensitive docs on a train and was summarily punished.
Red Ken won the debate at a canter. Grayling ineffectively spluttered throughout. The clinchers for Ken were twofold. Firstly, he laid the platform with casual, calm, comfortable delivery. This added simple credence to his position of ‘understanding’. Second, he undermined the severity of the blunder with a simple statement (delivered in a kind of ‘come on … please’ manner), “it’s not like leaving things on a train”. The inference was crystal clear. The train debacle was way worse, let this fella off.
Unbelievably, Grayling failed to challenge that contention. What a clown. I felt he did not do so in part because he was too rigidly sticking to some unfounded dogmatic posture and was trying to tread an impossible line rather than stand up for what he knew was right. I was so upset he missed such a cracking opportunity. I was screaming at the telly, I can tell you.
He should have stopped to query Ken. It was all so simple. “How can you imply it’s not as bad as the train thing? It’s way, way worse than that. Intel more sensitive, implications many times larger, an entire operation had to be hurried forward, lives at risk even, etc etc.”
And so to the moral.
How many times have you been in a meeting with a prospect, and something is said that you know is not right. Not necessarily an objection, but some statement that you know is plain wrong. It could be just the way that they think that’s come up, a stance that could derail you.
Don’t let it sit there. Don’t let it fester. Don’t let the stench overpower the conversation. When such a position arises, you must ask why it prevails in the face of the opposite opinion. You don’t have to be outrightly confrontational. You can simply pose a question that introduces the view from the other side of the tracks.