Archive for Getting it right

Rescuing the Chilean miners – exceptionally exemplary crisis management

Everyone involved in crisis management can only have watched in awe as the Chilean miners’ ordeal unfolded. With only a few blips which, as the last few miners are being brought to the surface, now seem inconsequential, it has gone down as a supreme example of What To Do.

At almost every stage the response has been measured and considered. Every aspect of the miners’ welfare was thought-through in detail, while they were underground, as decisions were made about their rescue, during their nerve-wracking journey through the shaft, when they emerged above the surface, on their way to hospital, and (as has been announced several times) as they rehabilitate – to daylight and daily life.

So, too, has been the management of the emergence of each miner. Seeing close relatives walking slowly to the shaft, accompanied by a female minder in a journey timed to end a few minutes before the phoenix capsule emerges, joining a group which includes the Chilean president and his wife, has been like watching the world’s best choreography. Everyone playing a part and everyone in their place, the spotlight playing on each rescued miner first, their closest family next and with everyone else a minor part of the chorus.

Meanwhile, concerted hard work is being done by a large team – nameless and faceless, above ground and below – of people monitoring the equipment, managing each descent and ascent of the capsule, making sure that each trip is as risk-free as possible.

And so it has been from the start of the crisis – and more particularly, from the 17th day afterwards when the world discovered that the miners were still alive. Responsibility was taken at senior level (you can’t get higher than the president). Statements were circumspect, expressing cautious hope without raising expectations. Communication was maintained, revealing appropriate details without resorting to platitudes or flannel. Specialist and expert help was sought and taken (rare in itself). No expense was spared to ensure, as far as was possible, a successful outcome.

If a crisis management expert were to recommend that a crisis management plan should contain the level of detail we have seen played out in Chile, he or she would be dismissed as obsessive. Yet it is only when the fine details are considered, and planned for, that a plan becomes valuable. While no crisis ever goes to plan (though this crisis has come very close), it is only when you have a detailed plan that you have the leeway to amend it to fit the circumstances.

It seems churlish to mention the blips. The most striking was the slowness of the mining company, and the government, to apologise for the accident. Next was an announcement that the miners would be brought up within 48 hours when it was clear to observers that this was speculation. No one knew when the equipment would be deemed fit for purpose; it was too soon to set a time; the deadline was extended. Then there were moments of jubilation from crisis workers as milestones were reached. Yes, emotion was bound to spill over in such tense situations (we are, after all, human) but, with no miners rescued, it was too soon for such a public display of celebration.

If the outcome had been different – and as I type this the last miner, Luis Urzua, has emerged but the eight strong support team is still underground – these moments would be deeply regretted. Staying measured and calm is a fundamental aspect of crisis management.

But this is nit-picking. From accepting NASA’s advice on how to support people trapped in confined spaces to the president’s candid admission that the government had been at fault for not having more stringent controls governing mining, this crisis has set a new standard for crisis management.

Now all the Chilean president needs to do is fulfil his promises. Let’s hope that doesn’t lead to a whole new crisis.

No comment »

Gordon Ramsay’s reputation hit again

Poor old Gordon Ramsay. One of the chefs who featured in Kitchen Nightmares USA, Joe Cerniglia, has apparently committed suicide in New York. This is ghastly news in itself. Inevitably, it has given the media (which has it in for him at the best of times) the chance to remind us that Joe’s suicide is not the first to be linked to Gordon Ramsay. In 2007 Rachel Brown, who featured in Hell’s Kitchen 2006, killed herself in Dallas.

Gordon issued a statement immediately after Joe’s death was announced – as, indeed, he should have done. But getting the communications right immediately after a crisis is only the start. Being linked, however tangentially, with the suicide of one person, never mind two, has massive implications for the formats of his shows, the selection of participants, agreements with those participants – and his behaviour during those shows.

It also has implications for his business. With public opinion widely divided (it’s love him or loathe him, with the loathers being most vocal) how many more people will decide not to eat in his restaurants, stay in his hotels, buy his books, take part in his shows – or watch them? Will his detractors criticise him even more – and what will that do to his already tarnished reputation?

Gordon was lucky that, in America at least, a clinical psychologist said (on CBS news, broadcast throughout the USA) that, while the suicides of Joe and Rachel might have been triggered by the show, they were more likely to have been driven by underlying “major problems”. Unfortunately, that’s not enough.

Gordon must now prepare not just for further criticism from this latest crisis but also for other potential crises involving individuals, his shows, his books, restaurants, hotels … his overall business. Crisis management is all about reputation management. And the bigger your reputation (Gordon’s is international) and your personality (Gordon’s is far from small) the bigger the task. When your reputation is driven by your personality, it’s almost always going to be one step forward and two steps back. Which means spending a lot more time behind the scenes, prepping. Poor Gordon.

Comments (1) »

Being sorry is never enough

The real tragedy of this crisis is that it’s a repeat. The Pope’s in town and he’s just given what even the media has described as a profound apology – for the child sex abuse scandal that has rocked the Catholic church.

“I express my deep sorrow to the innocent victims of these unspeakable crimes,” he said, adding: “I also acknowledge the shame and humiliation that all of us have felt”.

“It’s his most profound apology in public; he’s truly contrite,” was how one of his stooges put it. “Profound and touching,” said a media commentator.

But it’s not enough.

As I said in my blog in April, while an apology is essential, it must be accompanied by a pledge to do something to right the wrong and that pledge must then be fulfilled. If your crisis also drags up other concerns – in this case, the Catholic church’s struggle with homosexuality, gay rights, safe sex, contraception and abortion – even a profound apology sounds circumspect rather than genuine.

When you’ve said the same thing before – as did the Pope in April, though not in such profound terms – it’s not even circumspect. It’s hollow.

The Catholic church may well need to reiterate its apology many more times for many years to come but it also has to commit itself to decisive action, not just repeated words, if it is to overcome its heavily tarnished reputation.

No comment »

Buckingham Palace, the BNP and the oxygen of publicity

So, Nick Griffin has had his invitation to today’s Buckingham Palace garden party withdrawn. As an MEP, his invitation will have been routine: there are protocols about who gets invited and his name would have been included automatically.

That, of course, does not mean that everyone on the list should remain on it. Careful double-checking is a must; consulting others if there are any doubts is also essential. Whether the list was provided by the civil service and the lack of nous was there, or whether his name wasn’t spotted by palace courtiers, is irrelevant. Both missed chances; it happens. We are all human and it’s a fact that most crises are caused by human error. Minimising their effects depends on avoiding more human errors.

There is a case for Griffin being excluded from the invitation list before it saw the light of day. It would have been an awkward decision to make and there was bound to be a fuss whenever it became public, as it surely would have done given the person and the political party involved. Griffin is no fool when it comes to exploiting opportunities for publicity even if many think he is more than a fool for the views he holds. He’d have known he could have expected to be included and he’d have announced the fact that he hadn’t.

But the hardest part would have been justifying his exclusion from the list at that stage. HM The Queen is prevented from becoming involved in party politics; she can’t be seen to take sides. What reason could possibly have been given? None was good enough.

The question then is: if not then, when?

If it had announced the decision at some point between his invitation coming to light and today, it would have given Griffin and the BNP publicity then as well as now – you can be sure he would have turned up anyway, having tipped off the press. Media snappers and scribblers would have appeared en mass to create an even bigger story – with him on the spot providing great photos, taking over the story, leading the headlines.

So, announcing the decision today, on the day that Griffin was due to attend a garden party, was a risk but a calculated one. And it was the right one. Yes, the story is one of today’s top headlines but it will soon fizzle out. Yes, it has given Griffin and the BNP the oxygen of publicity on which they rely but any other time would have been worse.

Plus the palace now has sound, plausible reasons for excluding him. He has, indeed, used the invitation for party political reasons and that’s not on. That sort of behaviour does not need to be spelled out on invitations; we just don’t do it. Plus, as most garden party guests know -and as Griffin must have known – only a few people have the chance to talk to The Queen, or any other royals there on the day. Griffin had no chance of being one of them so canvassing constituents for questions to put to The Queen is blatant self-promotion and party political publicity and nothing else.

Finally, Griffin is now responding to the news, not making it, and today’s garden party will be the talk of the town (the nation and perhaps beyond) for the right reasons. It’s a sensible shift in the balance of power, putting the palace in control.

As anyone who has been to a palace garden party knows, it is a very special day. There is nothing else like it. Those who have been relive it in their minds’ eyes every summer – it’s a powerful memory and building that sort of positive thinking among so many is an important part of the palace’s long term PR strategy. It’s impossible to know whether Griffin would have disrupted the party once he was on the lawn but, even if he had been a model of decorum, his presence would have created a stir. That would have changed the memories of the others there – and the palace must be keen to avoid that, every time.

It’s worth remembering that the palace is not noted for moving swiftly. Its response to looking at its role in the wake of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, was to set up a group that meets every six months. Every six months! But, as was explained at the time, when you’ve been around for 1,000 or so years, every six months is fast enough.

Yes, crisis management consultants often argue for swift, decisive action but there are times when pausing and reflecting make better sense. Leaving the decision until it had found a credible reason for excluding Griffin was the wisest thing for the palace to do.

Measured, paced, calm – it beats knee-jerk, every time.

No comment »

BP just can’t help itself – the world agrees

Once you are on a downward spiral it’s impossible to turn round and go up. At least that’s how it is for poor, beleaguered BP.

Not only is its CEO, Tony Hayward, gaffe prone; so is its chairman, Carl-Henric Svanberg. Self-deprecating humour that isn’t understood in the US, is one thing. To refer to people affected by the oil gushing into the Gulf as “small people” is another. Of course we know what C-HS was trying to say: he meant ordinary citizens. It just didn’t come out right. But, with memories that go jogging back to Imelda Marcos calling her subjects “little people”, C-HS’s comment was more than an unfortunate slip of the tongue.

Meanwhile, blowing my own trumpet a bit, I got a call out of the blue on Wednesday – from the BBC World Service “World, Have Your Say” programme. They had seen this blog and read that I felt sorry for Tony Hayward. Would I be prepared to go on Thursday’s programme and talk for about 20 minutes? No! was my instant response. And that was no way to manage my own mini-crisis. Fortunately (for me) they persuaded me (a little flattery helped, I’m sad to admit) and suddenly I had to put into practice everything I preach. Starting with preparation, preparation, preparation.

I have a persuasive anecdote which I use in crisis media management training courses so I’ll save that for then. This example isn’t second hand.

You can’t do enough. Prepping takes hours. I’d been up late thinking about what I wanted to say and how I wanted to come across and was nowhere like ready. I spent the morning, thanks to a client changing our plans, honing points and fine-tuning back-up info to illustrate points. Thankfully, a colleague offered to cancel a meeting and, goodness, I needed that extra time. I chanted bits out loud, trying to set them in stone (or at least in grey matter). I typed notes in columns: points to make (far too many); what BP did wrong (a very long list); what BP did right (one thing); background info (yards). I edited. I added. I cut. I pasted back in. I researched some more. My palms became very sticky. I recited and recited as if I were going to appear on Broadway. I changed quickly (it was only radio but who might I bump into?) and I set off, collected by BBC taxi, intent on refining my three main points, my anecdotes, my extra bits – everything – on the way.

Stuck in no-moving traffic, a car next to ours had Radio 4 blaring a commentary on the cruel slaughtering of Tony Hayward by US journalists just before he faced the US Congress. Swotting notes became a lower priority; I listened to the latest – feeling even more sorry for this non-media-savvy guy.

I arrived just as the programme went on air – ie late. And I now have a second authoritative piece of advice to give. The first (irrelevant to me on radio) is: if you are appearing on a television programme and are offered make-up, accept. This is nothing to do with vanity; it is about recognising that the broadcaster knows its interviewees look better without shiny noses or peculiar complexions. And the second titbit is, if the programme asks if you’d like a taxi to pick you up, accept. Yes, in this era of austerity, publicly funded organisations need to cut back and I did feel guilty. But, as I found out, if you get stuck in traffic and arrive late, it helps if it’s not your fault. (And I took up the offer of a taxi home, too, and very glad I was as concentrating for an hour left me dazed and confused and I’m not sure I’d have made it to the tube.)

It was hard work but it was also a lot of fun. I was the only person in the studio; contributors spoke down the line from the US, India, Nigeria and the UK; opinion on the other side of the Atlantic is mostly poisonous – there is no hanging onto pride to bring a bit of balance; the newsreader slipped in and slipped out again like silk; I ran out of water and rather haughtily summoned some more – what a prima donna! – and I managed not only to keep my cool but also to say what I needed to say. More or less.

It feels a bit egotistical to say this but … you can catch the programme on BBC iPlayer for a week on one of these two links: http://ow.ly/1ZZu7 or
http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p0082kxs/p0082l0f/World_Have_Your_Say_17_06_2010

How did I do?  My crisis to manage was to ensure, as far as I could, that I would be seen to do what I advise my clients to do. I stumbled over one question (I’d never castigate a client about that; it’s a human reaction); I said “um” a couple of times (but not, I think, to an irritating extent); and I missed a couple of chances to make other points (but this was a roving discussion where mixed views mattered). Did I prepare three main points? Yes. Did I put them across? Yes. Did I have anecdotes for each? Yes. Did I use them all? No but that’s typical. Did I vary my pace and my voice enough to engage the audience? That’s for you to decide. Let me know what you think – all comments welcome and I’d rather have brutal honesty than polite fudge.

No comment »

BP strolls to self-destruction

Its share price has plummeted, shaking shareholder confidence still further and threatening the UK economy. And it has faced attack from foes in many guises: Greenpeace scaled one of its buildings, unfurling a flag proclaiming it as British Polluters; its Twitter account was hijacked (though the offending Tweet was removed after about 30 minutes); and the US president has promised a criminal prosecution if a criminal act has been committed.

And only now has it moved to take on a high-profile, ex-White House crisis communications expert to help it get some positive media coverage in the US. It also needs positive media coverage here.

The tragedy with the BP crisis is that it could have been so different. And that is the tragedy for every crisis when its management gets off to a bad start.

There are two unshakeable facts about crises. First, if a crisis is badly managed, the damage to the company’s reputation may far exceed the financial cost of the disaster. Secondly, businesses that communicate effectively during a crisis may win new credibility and higher levels of respect than they had before. So, yes, spending money on crisis management and crisis media management is essential – and it has to happen before any crisis starts.

I wonder if Tony Hayward has picked up the phone to the White House. He should have done – early on.  He should have been on Fourchon Beach, Louisiana, with the president, taking in the same view of the impending impact of the oil on the shore and pledging, to the world’s media as commanded by Obama, that BP would do all it could to stop the flow and rectify the damage. If he has been communicating with the White House and President Obama is refusing to say so, that is tough. Deciding whether to go public on this is a huge risk – but it is a risk worth taking. So, given that BP has not yet said it has spoken to the White House, we can only assume it hasn’t.

No wonder Obama has been able to run rings round BP. With a potential crisis on his hands, he took control – just as Tony Hayward should have done –dramatically emphasising how tarnished BP’s reputation now is and making it look slower, weaker, even more amateur.

The rules to follow to achieve good crisis management are very few, very simple – and very tried and tested. Companies that decide to do their own thing opt for self-destruction.

No comment »

BP oil slick not so slick – Take advice from a duchess

Three crises are bubbling away at the moment: the BP oil slick that has incurred the wrath of a US president, the Duchess of York’s latest foot in mouth episode, and the continuing BA crisis.

It’s a mystery to me why people at the very top of their worlds (and you can’t get much higher up the oil world than BP) fail to see common sense. When a crisis happens, you cannot hope to survive it with your reputation intact if you use weasel words. Yes, there will be some circumstances in which it is genuinely unclear who is to blame. But if you are responsible you must put up your hands and fess up – immediately. If you are in a group or consortium (or whatever else, tightly bound or loosely formed), you must do this together. Passing the buck will never, ever work in your favour.

Those of us who can remember the first Mandelson episode will not need to be persuaded. He denied and denied and denied but, much later, had to own up – by which time he had lost all credibility. While he is perhaps our most successful come back kid, very few people take him seriously. He is seen as a bit of a rogue, perhaps with an endearing quality, but he’s not someone you would trust with the truth. When he recently pronounced on the importance of propriety in parliament, there can be very few of us who didn’t snigger at his bare-faced cheek.

So why do we keep on hoping that denying is the right way out? By putting the blame on Transocean, Tony Hayward of BP made a catastrophic error. He looked weak and untrustworthy and he made BP look weak and irresponsible. At the very least, he should have teamed up with Transocean to show that they would work together to stop the flow of oil, investigate the cause and deal with its symptoms. Instead, he chose equivocation and he passed the buck. He now has President Obama breathing down his neck (cleverly saying that the buck stops with him) and a damaged personal reputation that will affect his career prospects whenever he leaves BP, which may be sooner than he hoped given the consequence of his inactions and denials. As for BP’s reputation, that continues to be denigrated with families of the 11 people who died in BP’s other crisis (the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig which then sank, causing the oil leak) saying that today’s memorial service for those who died was no more than a show.

Fergie gets it right

Meanwhile, Fergie, for all her clumsiness and lack of business nous, knew exactly how to attempt to salvage whatever reputation she might have. And for her, the most important consequence of her foot-in-mouth proneness is her status with HM The Queen, her ex-husband The Duke of York and her daughters (all of whose good will she needs, not to mention their financial support). Also of importance, again for status and money, she needs to minimise the impact it might have on her future earning power among commercial sponsors.

So, apologising for a lapse of judgement was the right thing to do. And she did it swiftly. While you could argue that she had no choice (a recording of her grandiose claims was the strongest evidence possible) she could have argued she was duped or joshing or … it matters not. Her immediate apology and admission of failure minimised the size of the potential fuss that followed. The fact that she has done this before, following the same yes-I-did-it policy, and will no doubt do it again, has done her much less harm than if she had wriggled and fudged. In that sense, her behaviour is exemplary.

BA spin keeps spinning

As for BA, at last the media is beginning to look beyond the corporate spin. Until now, only The Guardian dared to see through the BA corporate comms department’s puffery, putting across the crew’s case in a considered and measured way. Others simply ignored it or paid lip service to it, perhaps publishing a batch of letters from crew without adding any editorial comment (as did the paper I read), as if to say “we have to publish this for balance but we think it’s a load of old rubbish”. If any rubbish is being strewn about, it is by BA.

With a corporate history that includes the raid on Virgin’s computers, as sanctioned by the BA board, BA’s reputation is becoming more and more tarnished. It’s a splendid example of what not to do. But don’t think you can get away with the same approach. It takes generations to build the sort of relationships BA has with the media – and if you betray those relationships, as BA has done, who knows what wrath might follow (when those journalists see they have been duped).

No comment »

Gordon Brown gets it right

This is nothing to do with political balance (an earlier blog recommended you take advice from David Cameron). It has everything to do with getting it right. Not even his worst enemies could fault Gordon Brown on the way he handled the personal crisis he faced at the very bitter end of his prime ministership.

Forced to hang on while the Lib Dems played off one party against another, he decided enough was enough and he was off. No one should hang on like grim death to anything but not having the courage to take decisive action is what makes so many crises turn into dramatic disasters. He was right to leave and pronto – as soon as it became clear there was no chance of a Lib-Lab coalition. The next question to deal with was how.

What puts most people off making decisions is fear of the consequences but these can be managed – if you anticipate what they might be. For Gordon Brown, the consequences were no longer about his political life and reputation; they were over. They were about salvaging respect (for himself and for his wife and family) so he could build a new life. Having already declared that he and Sarah did not want to seek roles in business (though I bet a few well-paid consultancies creep in) but that they wanted to make a contribution through voluntary work, he needed to look and sound like a charitable fellow.

By making a speech that put his role as husband and father centre stage in his life, he instantly softened the tough, out of touch image the public had built up of him. But then what? Leaving by the front door of No 10 and walking down Downing Street in full public glare takes a lot of courage when the nation has rejected you. To do so with his two small sons, looking like a normal family man, was a masterstroke. The risk was that he could be accused of exploiting his children for his own ends but seeing such a happy family of four, all joined by holding hands, the adults sharing a joke or offering an explanation to the boys – just as so many mums and dads do – put him firmly in the warm, everyday world that charities work so hard to achieve.

We saw for the first time (well, for the first time since his daughter Jennifer died) a human being with vulnerabilities, modesty, humour and respect for others – an all round good egg.  And that’s exactly what he needed to show.

No comment »

The Catholic church and Ryan Air make more mistakes

I’ve deliberately avoided commenting on the Icelandic volcano crisis – because it would have kept me occupied 24 hours a day, and because so many commentators were having their say. It would have been impossible to know who to comment on and when.

As I see it, the authorities overseeing the situation and determining whether and when airlines could return to the skies had to take an exceptionally cautious view. They explained why they were so cautious and gave regular bulletins, giving airlines some chance to cancel flights and warn passengers of the implications. If they had been less cautious, and there had been a tragic incident, they would have been vilified for being reckless.

They were right to play safe; the reccies run by airlines were risky. The BA test flight, with Willie Walsh on board, stayed well below the normal flight path and well out of the way of the ash – but they kept quiet about that. It was a PR stunt designed to bolster Willie Walsh’s reputation and investor confidence. It may yet prove to have provided a false sense of security. Tonight, one plane bringing back stranded passengers has been affected by ash. The story is not over.

Meanwhile, today two organisations spoke about crises affecting them. Did they get it right?

The Catholic church continues to shirk its responsibilities

The Catholic church has come out with a fulsome apology to everyone who suffered sexual abuse by its priests. So that’s sorted that, then. Well, no. Apologising is essential, of course, but it is not enough. Organisations need to say what they will do to prevent whatever has happened from happening again. They then need to make sure they do what they say they will – and report on it. Did we have any indication today of what the Catholic church is going to do to mitigate the risks of it happening again? Not a squeak beyond a bland statement that they will do something.

The reality is that sexual abuse of children is highly likely to happen again – in the Catholic church, in any church – in any place where children gather together. People who are at risk of abusing children cannot help being drawn to children in situations where abuse could be possible, so drawn to them they will be. I am of the view that they are not evil; there are deep-seated psychological reasons for their behaviour and they need extensive professional treatment to understand and then overcome the impulses that drive them. Some may never be able to achieve this and they will need to be kept away from temptation. But others will – with the right professional support.  Of course I wish it were otherwise but the facts are the facts.

So the issue the Catholic church ought to have spoken about is what it is going to do to minimise the risks to children – and what it is going to do to help perpetrators, or indeed potential perpetrators, to stop. Saying sorry without backing it up with a plan of action is futile and fools no one.

Ryan Air retracts

Michael O’Leary of Ryan Air popped up on screen and radio to issue a new statement, desperately trying to rectify his earlier rigid stance about what the company would pay stranded passengers in compensation for cancelled flights due to volcanic ash. Having already annoyed passengers, and come across as mean-spirited to the rest of us, he now has an uphill battle to convince us that they will be fair if things go wrong when we travel.

It is essential to anticipate reactions, explore the what-ifs, look at all the angles. His first response – that financial compensation would be limited to the value of the ticket – was clearly made with only one thing in mind: the business’s bottom line. This is short termism of the worst kind.

It is a fact that the damage done to a business’s reputation in a crisis far outweighs the cost of recovering from it. Businesses need to spend their way out of crises.

O’Leary discovered this too late – and will now need to spend much more on rebuilding the company’s reputation than if he had simply taken a fair approach from the start. Even now, he has not been entirely clear, insisting that compensation claims will be looked at on a case by case basis. That sounds as if it has the potential to create even more bad feeling among already disgruntled passengers – and you can bet your sweet bippy that some of them will talk to the media, criticising the company publicly for months to come. This will prolong the crisis and damage the business even further.

No comment »

Polish air crash: risking reputations

Today’s tragedy in Russia is unprecedented. Three things strike me. First, did the Polish government anticipate that such a crisis might occur, and prepare what to do and what to say in its aftermath? Secondly, how hard it must be for the families of ordinary passengers who were killed in the crash (in this case, the crew) when so much publicity and talk is about the deaths of government and military leaders. Thirdly, the situation is instantly complicated when there are rivalries or tensions between those involved: Poland and Russia.

Russia’s Putin appeared very swiftly, the impact of the tragedy etched on his face, taking control of the investigation. Good move. Meanwhile, the Russian flight control centre was swift to condemn the crew, by which they mean the pilots, for allegedly ignoring advice to divert and land elsewhere – presumably to place the blame firmly on Poland. Not a good move.

We in the UK must, I hope, have a crisis management plan in the event of major politicians and leaders being killed at the same time. There are several occasions a year when they are gathered together – or, at least, when significant groups of them are together. And, as most of them will be significant events – the state opening of parliament, the Mansion House speech, visits from foreign heads of state, royal weddings and funerals – security will be intense and massive, reducing the risk of a catastrophe. I hope there are rules about how many of them fly together, to minimise those risks – as with the monarch who never flies in the same plane as the heir to the throne, as with the US president and vice-president who are not allowed to fly together, and as with corporates where, typically, no more than two key leaders travel together precisely to ensure that the business can be run if those leaders were to be involved or killed in an accident.

I hope whatever plan we have takes into account the need to stress that the lives of ordinary people affected by any incident matter just as much – and to keep emphasising the point. The effect on and the grief of their family and friends must be recognised.

As for allegations about the pilots ignoring instructions, it is unusual for any facts about a crash to be known so soon afterwards. Typically, the black box needs to be analysed before facts emerge. If the comments are an attempt to shift blame … tut, tut, tut. And how might it make the pilots’ family and friends feel, perhaps unnecessarily? What might it do to the relationship between Russia and Poland if the black box reveals otherwise? And how will that affect Russia’s standing in the world? It’s far too early to assume that anything is fact.

No comment »