Issues management: Lessons from the UK Prime Minister

From an issues management perspective, embattled UK Prime Minister David Cameron this weekend did exactly the right thing by choosing to release his personal tax returns, in the light of the Panama papers.

Cameron’s opponents were hoping that the revelations, which have already engulfed less-than-honest former Icelandic Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, would also bring down Cameron – but in reality, in Cameron’s case, they were making a mountain out of a molehill, as his disclosures confirm.

By taking the step of publishing his tax returns for the past six years, the UK Prime Minister has shown an unprecedented level of transparency. The onus is now on UK opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn to follow through on his very hasty promise to also publish his tax returns – because then we’ll see what the Labour party faithful make of his salary, which is going to be well into six figures based on his Parliamentary salary as leader of the opposition.

Therefore Cameron has not only managed to quell the screaming about his own income, but also moved the focus elsewhere. It’s also a reminder that the UK PM makes a lot less than the $400,000 POTUS, for example.

Publishing his personal tax returns was a smart move, but from an issues management perspective, also the only one really still available.

Once the initial gasps about facts like Cameron inheriting the princely sum of GBP 300,000 have passed (is anyone howling about how much former Labour PM Tony Blair is making, let alone costing the public with the 24×7 armed guard outside his townhouse on a posh London square?), then common sense should prevail.

As I wrote previously, you need three things to keep a crisis going: Heat, which is public disapproval of what you might or might not have done, the oxygen of publicity, and something to burn – the fuel. In this case, Cameron’s “revelations” are damp leaves: This fire will now smoke a lot but the flames will die down.

This will be despite the attempts of fringe media – by which, I mean publications that have absolutely no influence over the establishment, no matter how much they huff and puff – to continue to whip up a storm: They can make all the noise they like about Cameron earning an “enormous salary”, because anyone who lives in or around London knows very well that the GBP 1m house is now commonplace in many parts of town. This means a lot of property millionaires – and suddenly that “enormous” payment does not look so big after all, in real terms.

What Cameron needs to do now and wait for Corbyn to publish his own tax returns – then, indirectly (of course) to start whipping up a new storm about the “exorbitant” amounts being earned by a man who gives every impression that he lives on bread and cheese and burns one lump of coal a week to heat his house. Corbyn, being the polar opposite of Blair, has no choice but to maintain this facade – that’s his job.

One thing the Panama Papers have managed to achieve is to knock the pending UK referendum on continued membership of the EU off the top of the news, at least for a day or two. With so much news in the headlines, this would be a perfect time for any company that needs to make a less-than-favorable announcement – because you can always blame redundancies on a nebulous factor such as a lack of confidence in Britain’s position in the EU.

Author: Simon Jones

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