Begin by having a reputation for something conventionally positive,
which enables you to speak your mind in risky ways beyond your remit.
2. It follows that you will eventually offend a significant swathe of
the population, but be sure that you explicitly signal those in whose
name you claim to speak. In other words, strategically polarize the
audience to your advantage. 3. But be sure that over time you adapt
your message to attitude change, so that you continue to polarize in
just the right way. This invariably involves massaging the original
meanings of crucial terms in your message to create just the right level
of dissatisfaction with the status quo, as the occasion demands. 4.
It helps to write a lot so as to present this shift as seamlessly as
possible. A diary is especially good at portraying self-consistency and a
sense of purpose across the vicissitudes of events, over which one has
no substantial control. Paradigm case?UK Labour politician, Tony Benn.
Over a political career that spanned more than a half-century, he was
always just ‘radical’ enough to keep self-affirmed radicals of the time
engaged but never too radical that he dropped off the political radar
entirely. The presence of a continuous self-narrative throughout created
the appearance of a ‘man of principle’. Others may wish to reach
other judgements about this life strategy, but in Benn’s case it
resulted in a soft landing at death, so that the obituaries waxed
nostalgic about what might have been rather than focusing on what in
retrospect look like a bull-headed refusal to see the political
possibilities that were opened up by admitting error. And that’s
the point of my calling this post a ‘radical’s guide to long-term
reputation management’. Benn was dead wrong on so many things, yet his
reputation survives. (I am writing this partly because the ‘Blue Labour’ people who track UKIP’s ‘Little England’ policies with inordinate interest may be tempted to revive the spectre of Tony Benn).