To recap… The Sunday Mirror reported a series of allegations made by a Brazilian male escort. A statement followed, in which the MP for Fylde in Lancashire resigned as a Parliamentary Private Secretary to the International Development Minister, Alan Duncan MP. Mr Menzies added, “A number of these allegations are not true and I look forward to setting the record straight in due course.”
…Well, which allegations?
Let’s look at this from a crisis communications point of view. The decision to resign from his PPS role has separated Menzies from those around him politically. But his statement was not a complete denial of the story. It allows wiggle room for both the MP and the Mirror. Now the media has a political scalp, and the resignation will not help Mr Menzies’ political career. He was a rising star, an experienced PPS, and a valuable asset to the Conservative Party, with real-world business experience.
Yet it could be argued this story hasn’t had a huge media presence. Perhaps we have all become a little immune to screaming headlines of MPs and alleged sex scandals. There was a time in the 1990s when they were weekly events. Maybe there’s a been a shift in public perception. It’s not that people condone any alleged misbehaviour; more that people have been desensitised, through repeated exposure. So perhaps his advisers have done exactly the right thing with their statement. It’s bought him time to think, consult advisers, and plan a longer strategy.
The statement will have taken some of the wind out of the sails of journalists desperate for some kind of response. Nine times out of 10, ‘no comment’ is the worst thing to say. Not only does it lead many to the conclusion that you’ve got something to hide, but it also creates a vacuum. Journalists still have to file a story, and will find whatever they can to fill it, while still staying on topic. Depending on the story, this can be experts, friends, or a vox pop from the street. Whatever the source, the person or organisation at the centre of the story has no control over it. And that can be dangerous.
As for Mr Menzies, the big test will come in the General Election in May next year. He’s already been reselected to stand, in what is a very safe seat. Will his majority of more than 13,000 be enough to see him elected once more? And will his next moves allow him to build a new political career?
Mike Ramsden is Head of Broadcast at PLMR, where he provides media training and select committee training services, and creates shareable online video content. He was a BBC News TV and Radio reporter for 18 years, interviewing more than 4000 people on air.