Talking yourself into trouble

Careless talk is still wreaking havoc with reputations, careers and profits 70 years after Government propaganda posters warned our grandparents that ‘Careless talk costs lives’.

Opening mouth and inserting foot is not exclusively the tendency of UKIP, and  to prove the point two Labour MPs and a prominent Tory this week have managed to talk themselves into the deepest do-da,

Everyone in public life – and that means not just politicians but anyone in a position of responsibility ­- is vulnerable.

First it was veteran Labour MP Austin Mitchell’s turn to put himself in the stocks. His statement that Labour would win the election in Grimsby even if it selected a raving alcoholic sex paedophile as its candidate would have been mildly amusing to a private audience of friends. It was reckless in front of an Independent on Sunday reporter.

Much more serious  were the boasts of two apparently impeccable elder statesmen. A few minutes’ careless talk in front of strangers was long enough for Jack Straw and Sir Malcolm Rifkind  to destroy the reputations they had spent a lifetime building.  All it took to bring them down was a simple sting operation by Channel 4 and the Telegraph, who secretly filmed them boasting how much  influence they could wield if a mythical Chinese company paid them enough,

It’s 24 years since Gerald Ratner nearly obliterated  his own jewellery company by describing some of its products as total crap, but his speech to the Institute of Directors lives on as a terrible warning to anyone daft enough not to realise how badly their remarks might be taken in a different context.

And as if the traditional media were not dangerous enough, the modern phenomenon of social media is a forest full of elephant traps in which the mildest politically incorrect comment can provoke torrents of abuse. Not just politicians, but corporate leaders need to think very carefully about what they are about to say if they want to avoid the wrath of Twitter’s thought police.

You do not have to say anything, but as any TV cop will tell you as he locks you in handcuffs, anything you do say may be given in evidence.

The moral is simple: engage brain before opening mouth.

– GARETH WEEKES, Deep South Media.