When will they ever learn? Gillian Keegan yesterday joined a crowded club of politicians who forget that while the interview maybe over, the tape is still running.
The Education Secretary was today recorded wondering why hadn’t been thanked for doing a “f***ing good job” – while others “sat on their a***s.” The reason she hasn’t been thanked is that dozens of schools have had to close because of crumbling concrete – so there can be little surprise many parents, pupils and teachers are not showering Keegan with gratitude.
She’s not the first of our elected representatives to provide journalists with audio gold.
The moment of the 2010 election came with the then Prime Minister Gordon Brown being recorded describing a voter he had just gladhanded as “that bigoted woman.” He was being driven away from his encounter with a voter – and forgot he was still wired up.
The woman in question was Gillian Duffy – and the Prime Ministerial motorcade was soon completing a sharp U-turn to allow the PM to visit her home in person and apologise. He also had to endure a radio interview where the offending clip was played back to him.
It probably wasn’t too damaging. Voters like authenticity – so politicians hot mic gaffes are rarely fatal. He lost the election – but most like would have done even with the most gaffe free campaign.
Ken Clarke and Malcolm Rifkind got into trouble during the Conservative leadership election of 2016. While Clarke sat in the studio he described Theresa May as a “bloody difficult woman.”
He was in the studio chatting with his former cabinet colleague as he was heading out. But a studio is effectively a microphone – the recording flew round newsrooms and provided May’s team with a perfect soundbite to present their candidate as a tough cookie. She went on to become the next prime minister.
Allegra Stratton was forced to resign after being caught laughing about parties in Downing Street
John Major had finished an interview when he chose to share some choice comments about a few of his cabinet colleagues – describing them as “b*****ds”.
He didn’t name them, but Westminster quickly worked out it was a trio who opposed his European policy. One of them, Peter Lilley – even joked he been called “fatherless” because of his beliefs during his speech to the party conference.
It was the perfect story for the much-derided grey resident of Downing Street to be shown losing his cool. But any kudos he gained by revealing he had a temper was probably cancelled out by the hopeless divisions his outburst revealed.
But an off the record recording can prove fatal. Allegra Stratton quit her Downing St adviser job after being caught joking about lockdown parties at No10. Swearing it appears is okay. Hypocrisy unforgivable.
Keegan’s language may well to have got in more trouble if she was a teacher in a classroom rather than the Education Secretary dealing with a persistent interviewer. But if more schools are closed, and those that already are don’t reopen shortly – she may be swearing under her breath on her way out of a job.