Mis-Communicator of the Week: Sir Malcolm Rifkind

I don’t intend to get into the substance of the allegations against Conservative MP Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Labour MP Jack Straw. I imagine others reading these pages who undertake lobbying activities professionally will have their own views on how their trade has been tarnished by unthinking MPs yet again. 

Our focus today is instead on an essential skill in modern day crisis communications that so few seem able to master - the doorstep interview. For context, Rifkind and Straw have been accused of offering “cash for access” by a joint sting operation from the Daily Telegraph and Channel 4 Dispatches. The story rumbled through yesterday with both the MPs hitting the airwaves to outline their innocence. Today the story ramped up further as an influential committee Sir Malcolm Rifkind chaired until today was meeting therefore putting his position under renewed scrutiny. 

The doorstep took place outside Sir Malcolm’s Westminster flat as he headed off to pick up his morning paper and can be seen here.  

Sir Malcom starts off well with a jaunty “good morning” but this is followed by a bitter sounding “mind your own business” when asked if he is to resign as chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee. It gets worse, instead of stopping, delivering a few words to satisfy the waiting cameras, then moving on, Rifkind fed the media beast with a shocker of a performance that joins others of its genre in the file “how not to handle a doorstep interview”. 

As he walked he kept up a sort of mumbling running commentary in response to questions and, in doing so, gave the waiting journalists exactly what they wanted. Sir Malcolm came over as aloof, petulant, angry and sarcastic as well as providing a stream of very quotable (and damaging) sound-bites, such as “get the right committee, you don’t even know the difference”, “you’re very childish, really”, “here we go again”, “how many photographs are you actually going to use?”, “you’re on private property now you’d better get off” before finishing with “you’ll be in trouble”. 

I have dealt with high-profile individuals in crisis situations on numerous occasions and, almost every time, they feel a desire to ‘make a show’ of it which is, I imagine, what Sir Malcolm was aiming for here. I always advise to keep better control of the ongoing narrative. It appears Sir Malcolm wanted a show which he certainly achieved with a shocker of a performance which set the tone for the day as Sir Malcolm Rifkind stood down as an MP. A disappointing end to a very successful political career which included stints as both foreign and defence secretary and is why he is my Mis-Communicator of the Week. 

Communicator of the Week is written by Ed Staite.

If you enjoyed this article, you can subscribe for free to our twice weekly event and subscriber alerts.

Currently, every new subscriber will receive three of our favourite reports about the public relations sector.

PR Masterclass: The Agency Growth Forum PRmoment Awards Winners 2023 Media Point PRCA CIPR Creative Moment ESG Awards