He had been employed for over a decade as the “Public Relations Manager” for a large food-packaging company with the express mission to “create, promote and maintain goodwill and a favourable image among the public towards the Company's brand”. It hadn't been difficult. The Company was world famous and supplied good quality products. As a result, Oliver (Oliver to his face; OliveOily” behind his back) felt that he lacked challenge and decided to move on. An opportunity arose for a job as “Public Relations Advisor” to the governing political party and he grabbed it. Even the derogatory, unofficial title of “Spin Doctor” appealed.
Politics presented a totally different set of problems for here the problem was dealing with “misinformation” - maybe the art of politics but to many people it was spelt “lies” What was a lie? Someone had written that a lie is a dishonest fact. An old Jesuitical argument was that it wasn't a lie if the hearer did not have a right to know. No shortage of opportunities for misinformation in politics, in fact it lay at the heart of much parliamentary debate. His job would involve ensuring that misinformation could not be used to undermine the Party's fragile reputation for integrity.
Some of the techniques were well known: the “non-apology apology” and the “non-denial denial” were used almost daily and hardly rippled the waters but occasionally some politician dropped a real clanger.
In the event, it was such a clanger that presented Oily with his first real challenge.
A very junior Associate Minister, in government as the result of negotiations with a minor party whose votes were needed, chose a very public forum to advance a policy that was part of the minor party platform, but most definitely not part of the ruling party's. As it happened to be on a conservation subject that had already attracted a lot of public attention and support the media gathered like flies. TV interviews, radio talk shows, you name it – there was no way that statement could be brushed under the carpet, so, how to minimise the impact?
In conference with the Conservation Minister, Oily advised that the Minister go public and concede that, although implementing the offending policy would harm the economy and lead to the loss of jobs, it was, nevertheless, a legitimate point of view that the Associate Minister (who was not, by the way, involved with the Conservation portfolio) was free to express in a free country. However, as the electors had rejected that policy at the last election, it would form no part of his Party's programme while remaining an interesting discussion point.
The Minister took the advice, that storm was replaced by another, and life went on. In private, the PM tore a strip off the offending Associate Minister and told him that, no doubt, some opportunity would arise to replace him in the job and that was that.
Oily was delighted. This job was going to be fun – there was even a hint of real power.