Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Mark MacGregor- a 'destructive force' or one of the 'most talented' within the Conservative Party ?

Mark MacGregor pictured with Michael Howard and friends on the campaign trail in Thanet South in 2005.
Picture courtsey of

Described as both a 'destructive force' in Conservative Party Politics and 'one of the most talented people ever employed by the Conservative Party', Mark MacGregor is a man that generates strong emotions. As far as possible, I have kept my rather subjective views out of the article that I am writing below (it is a draft only at the moment and would be grateful for any comments, anecdotes or corrections) but doubtless readers will have their own opinions...I shall amend the post below as and when I have finished writing about Mr MacGregor's career.

Mark MacGregor is a former Conservative Party Chief Executive under Iain Duncan Smith, and was the Conservative Candidate for Thanet South in the 2005 UK general election. He failed by only 664 votes to defeat the sitting Labour Party member, Stephen Ladyman, and would probably have won had the UK Independence Party not gained more than 2000 votes with their relatively high-profile candidate Nigel Farage.
MacGregor also contested the seat in 2001. On that occassion Stephen Ladyman polled 18002 votes for Labour (45.7%) while Mark Macgregor got 16,210 for the Conservatives (41.1%).
Prior to that he contested the ultra-safe seat of West Ham for the Tories in 1997. Labour's Tony Banks got 24,531 votes (72.9%), McGregor 5,037 (15.0).
He was Francis Maude's campaign manager in the 1992 General Election. Maude was to lose his marginal North Warwickshire seat, despite winning more votes than at the election before.
MacGregor was elected Chairman of the National Association of Conservative Graduates, 1989-90.
In October 2002, while Chief Executive of the Tory Party, Mark MacGregor, accepted undisclosed libel damages and a public apology at the High Court over allegations in Punch magazine, including a claim that he once wore a T-shirt bearing the words "Hang Nelson Mandela". Mr Justice Eady was told that Mr MacGregor had never been chairman or a member of the Young Monday Club and had never supported forced or voluntary repatriation of immigrants, as falsely claimed by the magazine.
MacGregor was replaced by the former MP, Barry Legg, as Chief Exec of Central Office. Central Office was quoted as saying that Mr MacGregor's departure was "long-planned and by mutual consent". He wanted to become a parliamentary candidate and could not do so while Chief Executive, but he had reportedly clashed with Mr Duncan Smith both over policy and organisational issues as well as the vexed issue of Mr Duncan-Smith's wife working for her husband. This led to an investigation into the conduct of IDS by the House of Commons Committee of Standards and Privilages
Central Office claims were undermined the following day when Michael Portillo MP (a contender should IDS have fallen on his sword), raised fresh doubts about Iain Duncan Smith's leadership of the Conservatives saying he was deeply disappointed by the replacement of Mark MacGregor. Portillo told The Daily Telegraph: "Mark MacGregor and Rick Nye (then Conservative Policy Director) are two of the most talented people that the party has ever employed and their achievements will be badly missed."
MacGregor was educated at Emanuel School in London and Heriot Watt University, Edinburgh. He was previously the National Chairman of the Federation of Conservative Students, where he was associated with the libertarian faction. There was some damage during the 1985 FCS conference at Loughborough, leading to press reports of a "riot". At that conference many of the libertarian faction were elected officers. It had later been admitted that the reports were as a result of an "astute spinning operation" by 'Wet' delegates and that the bill presented for damage was actually less than £20. however, after hearing of the media reports of these incidents, then Party chairman John Gummer immediately suspended the FCS's £30,000 annual grant. Mark MacGregor said in response to Gummer's actions:
"Unfortunately, many of our supporters will see this as a move against the leaders they have elected. Our supporters are from working-class backgrounds, and the party establishment seems to feel that we don't quite fit in."
Professor Peter Havard-Williams of Loughborough University wrote a letter to The Times to disclaim many of the press reports and Gummer's actions:
"Sir, As warden of the neighbouring hall of residence I heard little of the Conservative Students, unlike many other non-student conferences. There was no rampaging around halls of residence and the damage done was largely, if not solely, in one block. The damage itself was not more than that done by many other conferences and was not excessive."
It seems that some wet Conservatives actually did a great job of getting the story into the media; one then Conservative who was associated with getting the story into the public domain was Nick Robinson who went onto become the BBC's political correspondant.The FCS was finally disbanded by Tory Chairman Norman Tebbit (who suceeded Gummer in 1986). The final straw was a copy of the FCS magazine which branded former Conservative Prime Minister Harold Macmillan a war criminal (!) for agreeing to the deportation of Cossacks back to Stalin's Soviet Union. Tebbit was forced to get a court order to halt the magazine's distribution.
Former Conservative Party chairman Lord Tebbit subsequently accused MacGregor of being a "destructive force". The former cabinet minister said Mark MacGregor, 44, was not a good influence on the Conservative party and that he wouldn't go out and campaign for him in the 2005 general election. The peer recalled how he had "the most terrible troubles" with the Federation of Conservative Students (FCS), which was causing "grave damage" to the Conservative cause within universities. "I had to act then and suspend the whole of the FCS and start again and that was primarily in my judgement because of the leadership which Mr MacGregor was giving to the FCS at that time.I didn't throw him out of the Conservative Party, but I made sure that he would have no more part in its policies in universities," he told the BBC radio 'Today' programme. Lord Tebbit also called in 2002 for Mr McGregor to be sacked as the party's chief executive under Iain Duncan Smith.In a dispute which pitted Tory traditionalists against modernisers, Lord Tebbit criticised Mr MacGregor as one of the "spotty youths" who were trying to make the Tories more socially inclusive. Lord Tebbit said: "I think that he's a destructive force, in my view, within the Conservative Party. I don't think he was a good chief executive... I think that he was not a good influence in Central Office - that's my judgement."
Although not currently a board member, Mark MacGregor has been an active member of the Thatcherite 'Conservative Way Forward' group.Robbie Gibb, another CWF stalwart, one-time Chief of Staff for Francis Maude and brother of fellow CWF man Nick Gibb MP was best man at McGregor's wedding. The two are near neighbours in Pimlico and have been friends since MacGregor was chairman of the Federation of Conservative Students and Gibb a leader of the Conservative Students in the mid-Eighties.
MacGregor was behind the decision to install extra phone lines in a house in Lord North Street in 1995, as a possible campaign HQ for Portillo when it appeared John Major was on the point of being ousted by the Right.
He also ran the Conservative Mayoral campaign to elect Steve Norris as Mayor of London in 2004 - Norris eventually came a close second to Ken Livingstone.
In 2006, he supported David Handley in his bid for the leadership of the National Farmers Union.
In January 2006 the Conservatives launched a secret inquiry into the so-called 'Betsygate' affair and Mr MacGregor's role in it. The Sunday Telegraph revealed that the party had been re-investigating the saga surrounding payments made by the former leader, Iain Duncan Smith, to his wife, Betsy, for secretarial work in 2003. The private report wasn't published but MacGregor was cleared of any wrongdoing. This view is not shared by Mr Duncan Smith, who blames him his downfall and threatened to resign the party whip if MacGregor or Vanessa Gearson were ever again able to stand as Tory candidates. With the enquiry apparently showing no evidence against them, members of the Right-wing Cornerstone group, fiercely loyal to Mr Duncan Smith, are now gearing up to seek to prevent them being re-adopted as parliamentary candidates. Brendan Carlin of The Daily Telegraph published an article saying they suspect Francis Maude, (currently party chairman), of wanting to rehabilitate the two figures as part of Mr Cameron's wider drive for young, talented would-be MPs.
By the begining of 2006, MacGregor was quite a controversial figure within the Conservative Party. Conservative Central Office received a series of complaints about him. Lord Tebbit – who intervened in the last election campaign against MacGregor - complained about MM’s factionalism whilst he was part of the Federation of Conservative Students. The Opposition Chief Whip, according to an impeccable source inside CCHQ, noted that a significant number of MPs would be unhappy if he was selected. Iain Duncan Smith complained of the ways in which MacGregor was involved in the unfounded allegations against his wife. Perhaps wisely, given the inevitable subjectivity of some of the allegations, Central Office did not intervene (at least directly). Although he was not on the 'a-list' of candidates, he was allowed to be considered to fight the seat by dint of being a local candidate.
However,on the 17th October 2006, it was announced by the local party that Laura Sandys had been selected to fight Thanet South (apparently by a majority of two-to-one) in preference to MacGregor who had wished to contest the seat again.


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