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Wednesday, July 23, 2003
More didactics

A neighbour asked me how to open a matchbox yesterday and I was, because of a lifetime spent studying the subject, able to oblige. This has led me to republish several further 'how to' pieces, of particular use to governments beset by criticism. I thought that these tips could possibly be of interest to Mrs T and that she could, in turn, pass them on to friends of hers in great need of advice and consolation. Please note that I do not, of course, refer to the current outstandingly popular, able and perceptive administration on Airstrip One.
How to wriggle out of an embarrassing situation

When faced with an accusation, pick on the tiniest detail where you think the opposition is weakest. Insist that it is wrong/overstated (or, as we in the trade say, 'oversexed'). Ensure that the argument stays on this minute element at all costs but have care when dealing with influential organisations like the BBC. (See here for detailed advice.) The pressure will lead not only to a red herring hunt but to your enemies falling out, quarrelling among themselves. There will be unexpected results; these should mostly favour you. Principal accusers may even give up on the major issue.
The ploy just described is particularly useful when you have been caught out 'sexing up' reasons for going to war. As I said, our government needs no such sound advice. Here is another useful ploy:
How to maximise the chance that bad news will be overlooked

Previous versions of this ploy have insisted that bad news should be buried by releasing it on days when there is some other catastrophic event. It was not entirely successful and has led (e.g. in the case of Jo Moore) to resignation because it was overused - it should only be used sparingly. Bad news can be buried in other ways. Another effective way is to bury it with excellent news or with something humorous/ridiculous. In extremis, both together would be very effective. This is again best dealt with by example.

Let us suppose, purely fortuitously, that there is news of the demise of Saddam's sons. Whether or not this is confirmed, it provides an excellent opportunity for burying bad news. If anyone happens to notice the nasty, lurking, bad stuff, belittle the people who ask inconvenient questions and tell them they should be concentrating on the good news. Mrs Thatcher made excellent use of this ploy during the Falklands war saying 'Rejoice...' Who amongst us can now remember the bad news?

To reinforce this ploy, get your wife to give a rendering of a popular song. The media, who should be pursuing the much more relevant bad news, will follow this particular red herring and write long articles about her singing style; e.g. here.
As it happens, I haven't identified any recent release of bad news entirely under the control of the government. (There is, however, the inconvenient revelation that the BBC has a tape recording of Dr Kelly. It is expected to reveal disquiet among the technical experts about government 'interpretation' of their material.)

So, Mrs T, keep your eyes and ears open.

(The promised piece on getting corncrakes to gargle with aqua regia has been held over - Josh)

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