I watched last night’s programme on BBC1 called ‘Make me an MP’ – it followed John Smeaton’s attempt to win the recent Glasgow North-East by-election. (You can see it on iPlayer here until 25th November).
And if you don’t know, John Smeaton was the baggage handler who ‘chinned’ one of the Glasgow airport terrorists.
The first thing to say is that it was a good programme and that was of course it’s primary aim, so any conclusions we might want to draw are influenced by the filming/editing process. That said there were some interesting points to consider with regards to independent MPs.
Overall, John Smeaton came across as a nice, engaging guy who genuinely had an interest in his local area – there was one nice bit where he was passionately concerned about the amount of dog mess on the streets.
However, he didn’t seem to understand the level of work that was involved – firstly to kiss all the babies and shake all the hands on the campaign trail, but also once in parliament. The expectation from the voters is that you’re working all the time for them, that you never stop trying to help improve their lot – and possibly even more so if you’re an independent – and that the effort put into the campaign is possibly a good indication for voters of the effort you will put into the job you do in Parliament.
The main feeling though, was that he was let down by The Jury Team.
The programme itself was a publicity coup for The Jury Team, but in the end it was bad PR as they came across quite badly.
One element was particularly painful to watch and that was the initial press release. John Smeaton was crucified by the media attending it and it seemed that it was his ‘support’ from The Jury Team that was picked up most.
Now, he had obviously been very badly briefed by whoever was working with him and not only had he not been given details about what policies were held, but he wasn’t even given the most basic media training on how to deflect difficult questions.
At that press conference the scepticism of the media was frightening – was it for The Jury Team, was it for the candidate, or was it (most frightening of all) because he was an independent?
While the Bonfire Night stunt was clearly a stupid, stupid idea from the very moment it was mentioned. The candidate himself was “livid” and it was at this point he felt he was being let down by The Jury Team. John’s dad said it best when he said, “The Jury Team should not treat Parliament with contempt.”
In the end John beat other fringe candidates (including an ex-Big Brother contestant), but still came a distant 8th with just 258 votes (Labour won with 12,231).
In the final analysis it felt like John Smeaton had been let down by The Jury Team. While they offered some financial backing that allowed him to stand (as he may not have been able to without it), they also wanted to hijack the campaign.
The Jury Team talks about wanting to support independent MPs, but it doesn’t, it wants people who are not affiliated to a mainstream party – which is very different. The Jury Team, or possible Sir Paul Judge, seems to want to use ‘independent’ candidates to promote its own agenda, i.e. become a political party through the back door.
This is a long, long way from supporting true independents.
The show did finish with a nice quote. As John Smeaton looked back on his failed campaign he was pleased to have tried:
“The most honourable thing to do in politics is to stand as an independent.”