Spin doctors needed now

  29 November 2010

Some anxious shuffling on bums on seats during the after-dinner speech by broadcaster, John Humphrys, at the SMMT dinner last week.

This probably wasn’t the best venue to start discussing Tony Blair’s sex life – even if both Tony and Cheri seem happy to share it with the nation. But it was when Mr Humphrys started to get stuck into the motor industry that things turned a little frosty.

Mentioning Bernie Ecclestone and the £1m donation to the Labour party always seems to make a room full of automotive executives feel awkward. And, just when we thought things could only get better, the tone went from bad to worse.

It seems Mr Humphrys’s view of the UK motor industry is still tainted by his years as a cub reporter on Merseyside in the late 1960s when Ford’s Halewood plant, its industrial strife and commercial woes featured large in his news stories. As with Bernie Ecclestone, this is not a period that auto executives like to be reminded of.

To be fair, he did try to rescue the situation towards the end of his speech by telling the assembled audience what a great job they’d all done in turning the industry round – but I fear the damage had been done. Personally I was just glad he didn’t feel moved to get stuck into the retail side of the industry.

Top marks then to SMMT chief executive, Paul Everitt, for not letting the moment pass and for suggesting in his closing remarks that Mr Humphrys might like to take a more current view of our industry. You could argue that UK-based car and component manufacturing is stronger now than it has ever been (despite the recession) with investment in high-tech R&D at record levels and a healthy export trade balance.

What is troubling is that one of the country’s most influential journalists is either unaware of this, or chose to ignore it; perhaps for the sake of a more ‘entertaining’ speech. Perhaps we should be grateful that he specialises in heavyweight political interviews these days, rather than covering industrial stories.

Either way I hope both the SMMT and the RMI are working over their BBC Today programme contacts, right now. More positive spin needed, please.

Have a great week, both in and out of the showroom. If you have a story for us, or want to get something off your chest, email rupert@auto-retail.com

Rupert Saunders

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