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So, Nick Griffin has had his invitation to today’s Buckingham Palace garden party withdrawn.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.

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