2018’s best Select Committee moments

The festive season is upon us, but it seems that Sports Direct boss Mike Ashley is not yet feeling the Christmas cheer. When quizzed on the decline of the high street by the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee this week. the businessman defended himself by stressing he was “not Father Christmas”.

2018 has seen a wealth of memorable moments from Westminster’s Committee rooms.  As the year draws to a close, the GK Strategy team looks back on some of our favourites, and what we’ve learned from them.

  1. Arron Banks’ walk out

In June, Leave.EU campaigner Arron Banks walked out of a Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee evidence session on the organisation’s links with Russian ambassador Alexander Yakovenko, claiming he was late for a “lunch appointment.”  The footage of Banks refusing to answer further questions was picked up by major news outlets. While the coverage was not entirely negative, with some praising Banks’ boldness, the move most likely caused further damage to the organisation’s reputation in Parliament

     2. Caroline Nokes MP humiliation

When facing a grilling from Home Affairs Select Committee Chair Yvette Cooper MP on immigration cases, Immigration Minister Caroline Nokes MP appeared visibly irritated, and sarcastically told Cooper through gritted teeth that “telepathy is not my first skill”, claiming not to know about an immigration case. Cooper later revealed that the Department had already been provided with the information, leaving Nokes humiliated. Nokes’ appearance is a lesson in both getting your facts right, and in remaining calm in the event that things don’t go to plan.

    3.Prime Minister Theresa May MP in her own Select Committee

Last month, Prime Minister, Theresa May MP was up in front of the House of Commons Liaison Committee, where chairs of all select committees grilled her on the details of her draft EU withdrawal agreement. May repeatedly failed to answer questions on whether the EU would re-open negotiations, and if she would rule out a no-deal.  To make matters worse, the prime minister appeared characteristically robotic, and failed to understand Tom Tugendhat MP’s quip on the EU and UK becoming ‘friends with benefits.’

    4.Facebook’s (repeated) ghosting

2018’s most memorable select committee moment was ironically, Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg’s failure to show up. In March, Zuckerberg declined his third invitation to give evidence to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s inquiry regarding the company’s role in the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Though Facebook’s Chief Technology Officer Mike Schroepfer provided evidence to the Committee in April, the reputational damage was done – with Committee Chair Damian Collins MP calling the decision “astounding.”

Furthermore,Zuckerberg failed to learn his lesson, and again refused to appear in front of an international committee in November, prompting them to share a photo of the empty chair, with the caption “Nine countries. 24 official representatives. 447 million people represented. One question: where is Mark Zuckerberg?” Zuckerberg’s attempt to avoid scrutiny inadvertently pushed him into the spotlight, and his unwillingness to engage made Facebook appear callous and unaccountable.

For those looking to avoid a memorable appearance for all the wrong reasons, preparation is essential. A high-profile select committee appearance can cause serious reputational harm, but, done well, is an opportunity to effectively communicate your message to Parliament. GK Strategy consultants have extensive experience in training clients for select committees in highly regulated and issues-rich sectors and can help you fully prepare for providing evidence in challenging environments.

You can find more information on GK Strategy’s select committee training services here.

See more articles by Caitlin Wilkinson