Tuesday, 2 April 2013

I'm sure Andrew Mitchell has some redeeming features but they're not obvious

What astonishes me about Andrew Mitchell, is not whether he said what he allegedly said, but that he has managed to fly under the radar until now. My first impressions of Mitchell, when he was Shadow International Development Secretary, were not good. He kept me waiting for ten minutes then when I was admitted to his inner chamber he proceeded to sign documents, gesturing with his hand impatiently for me to speak. Apart from his incredible rudeness, I was struck by how grey he looked. His hair, his pin striped suit, his pallor. All that was missing was the bowler hat. When I didn’t speak, he finally looked up and acknowledged me, albeit to say he could sign documents and listen at the same time. I mustered up my best Ann Widdecombe voice (difficult with an Irish accent) and said I had cancelled two client appointments and trekked half way across London for a ten minute audience with him. In return, I insisted on his undivided attention.

I did get his attention and went on to work constructively with him to raise the profile of the Darfur genocide. There were occasions early on when I had to remind him of his place, that is, as a public servant. There was an initial scrutiny of my credentials, the membership numbers for the organisation I represented, a general, “What’s in this for me”. I told him that his job description required him to hold the government to account on Darfur, irrespective of whether it put him in line for a Nobel peace prize, though I did flag that as a distinct possibility.

It was precisely because there was something in it for him, I believe, that Mitchell engaged with me. I offered to write an article on his behalf, as long as he promised not to water it down. I wanted to raise the profile of Darfur, he wanted to raise his own. It was a quid pro quo. I sent a piece to him for his approval. He returned a sanitized version, with anodyne language and dodgy grammar. I said something along the lines of “It’s a genocide. You either come out, all guns blazing, or move to the Department for Rural Affairs, where fence hogging is actively encouraged”.

Shortly afterwards, the campaign for Darfur took on a huge momentum. There were marches in cities around the world, with celebrities such as Thandie Newton fronting the campaign. The media was seduced. I got a call from a TV news editor wanting one of the celebs to do a live interview. They were unavailable on the grounds that they didn’t actually know enough about the subject beyond the initial sound bite. I said I could get Andrew Mitchell at short notice but no-one was interested.

Andrew Mitchell personifies all that is wrong, in my view, with the Tory party and politics generally. Career, rather than conviction politicians, whose primary goal it seems, is self aggrandizement. Power is deemed a birth right, a commodity to be bought by the highest bidder, rather than earned. The real scandal is that a man so apparently bereft of interpersonal skills, passion (tantrums don't count) and talent could make it into the cabinet, never mind getting promoted to chief whip.

He’s not alone. I fear that David Cameron’s entire government is founded, not on meritocracy, but mediocrity. It’s an elite club, criteria for membership involves being the right gender, class and colour. Homogeneity on this scale leads to group think, which in turn leads to poor problem solving and bad decisions. As long as this government is dominated by the bowler hat brigade, it is destined to be plagued by indecision and paralyzed by lack of vision.

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