I don’t think there is a Royal College of Public Relations, but if there were, it should teach a course based on a comparison between two stories last week. One concerned the Prime Minister and the other the Archbishop of Canterbury. Both arose from the paternity of the principals and, in both cases, the principals had not done anything wrong. Yet there the similarities end.
David Cameron, and those working for him, spent the best part of a week fending off and then changing a story they found embarrassing. Justin Welby, and his much smaller staff, confirmed the truth of a potentially much more painful story in one go, bravely and clearly. Mr Cameron emerged from fundamentally minor questions about what money his father might have passed him (and by what means) with what looked like — though it isn’t — a stain on his character. Mr Welby came through a revelation of the sort that can provoke a nervous breakdown — that the man you thought was your father was not — with his character enhanced. Prime Minister looked cross and shifty; archbishop looked strong and honest.
Why the difference? It is not as if Mr Cameron is a bad man. He is moderate, patriotic, decent, family-minded, sane and humorous. Could it be something to do with the power of conviction? What seems to nag at the Prime Minister is a sense of his inauthenticity. He condemns tax avoidance not because he really thinks it automatically wrong, but because he is frightened about being thought posh and rich. Then he gets hoist by his own petard, so people laugh at him. The Archbishop of Canterbury, on the other hand, found his unshakeable faith through the extreme difficulties of his early life. When it turns out even more difficult, he knows instinctively how to deal with this. People respect him the more.
This is an extract from Charles Moore's Notes. The full article is available from tomorrow.