I used to like a sh*t sandwich.
When delivering a difficult main course message to someone, it always appealed to me to wrap it up in a flattering starter and a motivating dessert.
And then, a couple of years ago, a management consultant took my horrifically-titled dish off the buffet menu.
She pointed out that, when you deliver the sandwich, it’s almost impossible to avoid a ‘but’.
“You’ve done a great job on that series of features, but you’re not producing enough content for the website.”
“I love the relationships you’ve got with your contacts, but they’re not generating enough stories.”
In the end, the first part of the sentence gets completely forgotten, along with whatever concluding praise you choose as you vainly hope to send your listener away with a song in their heart.
All the person hears – like the recipient of an appraisal who ignores the 90% of positive feedback – is the bad stuff.
So try this for size.
“Yes. I am sure Theresa will be really sad she doesn’t have children so I don’t want this to be ‘Andrea has children, Theresa hasn’t’ because I think that would be really horrible but genuinely I feel that being a mum means you have a very real stake in the future of our country, a tangible stake.
“She possibly has nieces, nephews, lots of people, but I have children who are going to have children who will directly be a part of what happens next.”
Not one, but two buts.
And, that little word, those three letters twice, is what has done for Tory leadership hopeful Andrea Leadsom.
Hundreds of paragraphs have now been written about the two I have quoted above, from the ill-fated interview Mrs Leadsom gave to the Times.
Thousands of tweets have been sparked, with theories ranging from the game being up for the South Northamptonshire MP to the idea that her self-styled victimhood at the hands of what is now being called the MSM (mainstream media) will do her no end of good with Brexiteer party members.
— Daily Mail Comments (@BestoftheMail) July 9, 2016
The energy minister has protested bitterly that she would never seek to use her status as a mother to gain political advantage over her childless rival Theresa May.
She has said she pleaded with Times reporter Rachel Sylvester (and its ‘cameraman’, for some reason) for them not to use the comments.
So why make them? And more importantly, how can she possibly spin her words in any other way than the one chosen by the Times?
It’s terrible how people go around smearing politicians by accurately reporting what they say
— Benedict Evans (@BenedictEvans) July 9, 2016
To me, it all comes back to those buts.
If she didn’t want to make a clear comparison between her and Mrs May, she wouldn’t have phrased her remarks in the way she did.
Her use of that b-word wipes away the credibility of her attempts to qualify her comments.
She may as well have not said the first half of each sentence.
If she was a newly-elected councillor, I would feel sorry for her, and perhaps think that one of my fellow journalists had taken unfair advantage of her naivete.
When dealing with people unused to media attention, it is almost always worth ensuring there are no surprises when it comes to what they’re being quoted as saying.
But this is someone who aspires to be our next prime minister. In two months’ time.
She has already shown a lack of care over her CV.
If she remains so sloppy in her choice of language while CVgate rumbles on, so patently incapable of thinking ahead and working out the implications of her public comments, is she really the right person to be in charge of nuclear buttons and Brexit negotiations?
Once you factor in her outdated views on gay marriage and maternity pay, it’s clear that the 150,000 Conservative Party members have a huge responsibility on their shoulders.
This time there must be no ifs and absolutely no buts. Andrea Leadsom mustn’t be given the keys to Number 10.