In a feisty performance on the Today programme this morning, former Labour minister Jack Straw took the British insurance industry to the cleaners over the practice of insurance companies selling on the personal information of drivers involved in car crashes to no-win, no-fee lawyers. The matter had been brought to his attention by a friend who, following an accident, had been bombarded by phone calls from ambulance-chasing lawyers. Mr. Straw said the practice helped keep insurance premiums high at a time when accident numbers are coming down.
Up against him was Nick Starling of the Association of British Insurers.
Mr. Starling got off to an unfortunate start to the interview by telling John Humphrys: “Everyone’s in on it.” It’s hard to imagine how an interviewee could choose words more likely to damage their cause. It certainly set Humphrys off on a chase. Mr. Starling’s contention was that the whole practice would have to be banned and that individual insurance companies couldn’t do it unilaterally because of competition law. However, this position was undermined during the interview by Humphrys’ incredulity at what he was hearing. Humphrys prevailed over his interviewer, putting it to him that if you admit the practice is wrong, why not stop it now?
It sounded as though Mr. Starling or the ABI or both had committed the cardinal error of going into an interview on a contentious issue without testing their messaging. To confront John Humphrys with messaging like this, and expect not to be holed beneath the waterline, is naive in the extreme.
A good messaging session would have exposed the weaknesses in the ABI’s position. They might then have reconsidered their position before exposing themselves to Britain’s most forensic interviewer.