Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Andrew Mackay and the old ways of doing politics

In observing the behaviour of my current (and soon to be ex) MP Andrew Mackay I have found him to be an interesting case study in the old ways of practising politics. His actions in a couple of respects were acceptable and worked for politicians 20 or 30 years ago but completely fail to take into account how the modern political world works.

The first one is how he behaved during and directly after his now infamous public meeting in Bracknell in May last year. I blogged about it extensively at the time as I was one of the attendees and asked some of the questions. The 200-odd audience of constituents was overwhelmingly hostile to him, I estimated 85% or more were againt him and wanted him to stand down. The interesting thing from the perspective of "old politics" though was the way he tried to media manage the event. There was an attempt to prevent video cameras from being taken into the hall where the meeting was to take place. I witnessed this first hand where one of the officials tried to physically bar someone from taking one in with him. However the chap argued quite forcefully that he was serving a public duty by recording it for all the constituents who for one reason or another were unable to make it to the meeting. I backed him up as did others also queuing up and eventually the official relented. I know that at least two other video cameras ended up in the hall as I have seen the footage.

Straight after the meeting, Mr Mackay being interviewed by the media insisted that 75% or more of the meeting had been with him. That was completely untrue. Nobody who had just been in the hall could possibly have agreed with that statement. You can watch the clip here:

The gentleman who interrupts Mackay was spot on which was embarrassing for him. However it got much worse for him because of the footage from inside the meeting that was being uploaded from various sources within an hour of the meeting ending. Also a number of people who attended the meeting (including myself) were blogging about it within hours.

What Mackay was trying to do was media manage a public meeting in a way that might have worked 20 or 30 years ago but was completely inadequate for one where video cameras can be cheaply and easily used by members of the public and there is a channel available to them to distribute them across the country (and the globe) within a few minutes of them getting home. He clearly thought that if he could just stick to his line that the meeting was largely with him then he could hold onto his job.

We now know that David Cameron called him the next morning and left him in no doubt that his position was untenable. Mr Cameron fully understands how the new world works and I expect the decision took him a few minutes at most. Rumour has it that he had watched one of the video recordings of the event.

I knew it was all over for Mr Mackay as soon as I saw the above TV clip. It was just too easy to prove that he was totally misrepresenting the mood of the meeting. It's the technology that did for him.

The second occurrence that makes it clear Mr Mackay is still practising politics in the old way is something that happened last week. He has accepted a position with a political lobbying firm. It has been reported that he will earn a six-figure salary and the statement from the company who will employ him makes it clear that they expect him to be able to wield influence within David Cameron's inner circle.

Andrew Mackay was one of the worst offenders in the MPs expenses scandal. Out of the more than 300 MPs who had to pay money back, the amount he was judged to have wrongly claimed was over £30,000 (and his wife a similar amount) which puts him third in the list of worst offenders. Against this backdrop, to go straight from being an MP to work for a lobbying firm earning the sort of money most people can only dream of specifically because of his perceived influence with the man the bookies have odds on to be our next Prime Minister leaves a very nasty taste in the mouth.

What makes it worse for Mackay is that the announcement came two days after David Cameron made a speech railing against the secretive lobbying industry and vowing to clean things up:

"We all know how it works. The lunches, the hospitality, the quiet word in your ear, the ex-ministers and ex-advisers for hire, helping big business find the right way to get its way. In this party, we believe in competition, not cronyism.

"So we must be the party that sorts all this out. Today it is a £2bn industry that has a huge presence in parliament. The Hansard Society has estimated that some MPs are approached over 100 times a week by lobbyists.

"I believe that secret corporate lobbying, like the expenses scandal, goes to the heart of why people are so fed up with politics. It arouses people's worst fears and suspicions about how our political system works."

That is a damning indictment of what Mackay (and the firm employing him) expects to be able to do straight after the election. Yet in the public utterances from my MP on the subject there appears to be no recognition of the reality of how badly he is coming across and how inappropriate it is for him to be making huge amounts of money from the influence he clearly thinks he still has (although I think his new employers might be in for a shock on that front).

These are two prime example of how an old political fixer has come unstuck for completely failing to understand the modern political landscape and how MPs need to behave in the age of YouTube and blogging and following the expenses scandal.

Mr Mackay's successors would do well to take note.

UPDATE 22:20: Paul Waugh also has a good post on Mackay and his wife (Julie Kirkbride) this evening where he draws our attention to the pretty devastating verdict (albeit couched in civil-service-ese) of Sir Paul Kennedy in his ruling on both of their appeals regarding their expenses.


Voter said...

Mark, what do you think about Mr Cameron being explicit, something like "I will not be listening to Andrew Mackay and the firm is wasting its money"?

Archbishop Cranmer said...

Mr Reckons,

Laudable piece.

A little gift:


We await David Cameron's assurance...

@molesworth_1 said...

A superbly forensic dismantling of the man & his method.

Unknown said...

He's in Ireland at the moment at an inter-parliamentary conference I'm attending. Any viably civil questions?

Mark Thompson said...

Hi Mick.

I suppose you could ask him if in the light of Cameron's recent comments about lobbying he still thinks he is going to be able to have the sort of influence which would justify a six figure salary.