Keep your enemies close, but your family closer

July 9, 2009

“Good name in man and woman is the immediate jewel of their souls.” Shakespeare’s archetypal schemer Iago recognised that a person’s good reputation was a precious commodity, that it was hard earned and needed to be protected.

In today’s corporate environment, we refer to the concept of ‘reputational risk’ or ‘reputational equity’, and sophisticated methodologies have grown up to identify risk and put in place actions to mitigate against them.

In Othello, it is the protagonists themselves (with some side stage whispering from Iago) that conspire to destroy their own reputations: Cassio gets drunk and attacks Montano and Othello kills Desdemona believing he has been cuckolded. But what happens when the damage is not self-authored but is inflicted by a member of one’s family?

At the weekend the new head of MI6 Sir John Sawers had his cover blown after his wife posted personal details about the family and photos of Sir John in his swimming trunks on Facebook. The incident quickly blew up into ‘Speedosgate’ with the Foreign Secretary David Miliband harrumphing that the media was getting its own underwear in a twist about nothing.

A couple of months ago the former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith became the object of ridicule after it emerged her husband had charged for two adult films. She said that subsequent press intrusion into her family life was one of the reasons for her standing down from the job.

And while it would appear that no amount of scandal could drive Silvio Berlusconi from office, even the perma-tanned Italian Prime Minister was forced to backtrack when his wife put the boot in over his plans to field a number of female TV presenters and a former beauty queen at the European elections. She described their candidacy as “shameless rubbish to entertain the Emperor”.

Othello chose to view himself as “one that loved not wisely but too well” and it’s tempting to think that Jacqui Smith, for instance, will have, albeit momentarily, questioned her own wisdom in exchanging vows with a man with a taste for risqué movies. But perhaps the salutary lesson here is that when you are in public office and likely to attract the media glare, it’s always best to get the other half on message. Those that fail to do so may be required to take the Tessa Jowell option which is to keep their job so that you can spend less time with their family.

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The language of crisis

July 5, 2009

Every crisis seems to throw up new words and expressions that fill our consciousness for a few days or weeks and then fade as quickly as they appeared.

During the 2007 UK floods, we learned about the water ‘bowser’, a tank used to distribute clean water to flood-affected neighbourhoods. The recent MPs’ expenses controversy produced expressions such as house ‘flipping’ and ‘redaction’ of expenses forms.

According to Professor David Crystal, a linguistics expert at Bangor University, the growth of blogging and online message boards has enabled words to enter popular usage more easily. And when they are used outside of their original context, for example when people other than MPs talk of ‘flipping’ their main and second homes, they can become part of our everyday language.

One wonders about words used to describe the current financial crisis. It’s a fair bet that ‘credit crunch’ will be adopted to describe any time we are hard up, but what about, for example, ‘quantitative easing’? Is it possible we will talk about ‘QE’ when we are injecting some liquid into our personal money supply?

I remember a time when the expression ‘moral hazard’ was all the rage in the pages of financial newspapers to describe how the big banks would be allowed to fail if they acted recklessly and got into trouble. That phrase, along with the threat, has seemingly had its day and has been replaced by the expression ‘macroprudential legislation’. It is a policy now in favour with the UK government to minimise systemic risks rather than prevent problems in individual banks. It may help in creating the necessary checks and balances for the banking industry, but I can’t see it catching on down at the Dog and Duck.