UK lobbyist airs dirty laundry
Lord Blencathra, the former director of the Cayman Islands London office, was left idle for nearly two months in 2013 after statements indicating he was “no longer in charge,” leaving the highly paid lobbyist unable to work with U.K. government officials or the British foreign office.
That claim is one of several made by Lord Blencathra, formerly known as David MacLean of Scotland, in a complaint filed with the Cayman Islands government regarding the “rude behavior” of some of his staff members in the London office. The House of Lords representative served as Cayman’s London office director and the territory’s chief lobbyist in Europe between late 2011 and March of this year, when his contract with the Cayman government ended.
“The London office is totally dysfunctional and it will have to be sorted out one way or another before we have a real catastrophe on our hands,” Lord Blencathra wrote in a June 2013 email to Cayman Islands government chief officer Dax Basdeo and Cabinet Secretary Samuel Rose. “If the Hon. Premier wants to cancel my contract, then so be it. But if not, then two people in the office must start behaving professionally.”
Angry and sometimes expletive-laced emails obtained by the Cayman Compass that went back and forth last year between Lord Blencathra, members of the London office staff and the local government in Cayman, reveal a culture of bickering, backbiting and bureaucratic delay in the office that interfered with the territory’s ability to present its message effectively. The former London office director also flagged instances where the situation caused other overseas territories leaders to tell Cayman to “get its act together” and which led the U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office to temporarily cut off communications with the U.K. Lord. According to the formal complaint made by Lord Blencathra in July 2013, he said he was informed in late January 2013 that another London office employee was now “in charge” and that he was “just a consultant with no authority.” This message was also apparently delivered to the chair of the U.K. Overseas Territories Association during a Jan. 31, 2013, annual general meeting.
Former Cayman Islands Governor Duncan Taylor was completely unaware of any such change, as was Mr. Basdeo. A clarification was requested from then-Premier Juliana O’Connor-Connolly, who wrote the U.K.’s Overseas Territories director on March 8, 2013, reaffirming Lord Blencathra’s position as London office director.
“However, during the six weeks it took to get clarification, the [U.K. foreign office] completely, and understandably, cut me out of all communication,” Lord Blencathra’s complaint read. “I lost all sources of information and was unable to feed back vital intelligence to Cayman and the Hon. Premier. It seems that the Hon. Premier had been kept in the dark about all these goings-on…”
“The damage done by [the London office employee – name redacted] was considerable,” Lord Blencathra continued. “It made Cayman look like a shambles and all other U.K. Overseas Territory Association representatives could see underhanded behavior, which did not help our reputation. It took me some time to establish working relationships after this debacle.”
After the confusion regarding who was leading Cayman’s contingent at the U.K. Overseas Territory’s Association meeting, Lord Blencathra apologized to the head of the association, who wrote back: “Cayman really need to get their act together, it is embarrassing.”
Lord Blencathra also complained that London office employees scheduled meetings or attended conferences without letting him know about it.
This led the London office director to request that all office employees keep a diary of their weekly activities. According to Lord Blencathra, that request was ignored for almost two months. Lord Blencathra sent an email on May 10, 2013, asking why employees had not complied with “a simple instruction.”
One London office employee, whose name was redacted on the email, replied: “David, I am very busy at the moment, but since you are so persistent in your self-indulgent demands, I will take the time to address all of the issues you referenced in your previous message when I get the chance later.”
Lord Blencathra emailed again, asking for a list of employee engagements: “Why, when I request you forward official engagement so that I can approve any foreign travel, all I get is abuse? What is the problem?” The same employee replied: “David, you are annoying me with your constant petty messages. If you and your company can’t be of any assistant [sic] to me, then please stop bothering me with such message [sic]. I told you before face-to-face about calling me your anything. So once again, I am NOT YOUR [expletive] AND YOU DON’T HAVE TO APPROVE ANY SPENDING FOR ME!”
An earlier set of back-and-forth emails between Lord Blencathra and the unnamed London office staffer also discussed some confusion with regard to attendance at a meeting in Brussels, Belgium, and another with U.K. Overseas Territories representatives. These emails clearly showed that the staffer did not believe Lord Blencathra was in charge of the office.
“Nor am I aware of any requirement to seek the permission of a consultant (whose contract clearly indicates that they are not to be considered or ‘hold themselves out to be an officer or employee of the ministry, the Cayman Islands government or the Cayman Islands London Office’ and as such would have no authority) prior to undertaking my duties,” the employee stated.
Another email sent to Mr. Basdeo on the same date, March 5, 2013, stated: “Lord Blencathra continues to be the source for discord and conflict in our office with his continued and contemptible attracts [sic] on [a London office employee],” a second London office employee wrote. “I am not sure about any other Caymanian, but I, for one, do not appreciate being naively victimized with the old colonial-style divide and conquer tactic and will not just sit and let it happen anymore. I must say that I really miss the days of harmony, camaraderie and patriotism that we shared at the [London office] before Dec. 2011.”
Mr. Basdeo responded to the latter email by asking either of the two London office employees referenced to make a written complaint against Lord Blencathra if they had grievances. “I am unsure of how to respond to your email given the accusations that you are making and no further background evidence,” Mr. Basdeo said.
Later in the year, Lord Blencathra proposed to place a second employee of the Cayman Islands Maritime Authority in the space rented by the London office staff, which he said would save the office money and assist the maritime authority in its overseas work.
A staffer in the London office replied that such a decision shouldn’t be made “unilaterally” and that the matter should be decided at the “ministerial/Cabinet” level. The staffer also reminded Lord Blencathra that a new Cayman Islands government had just been elected [in May 2013] and that they might have their own ideas about what to do with the London office. The staffer raised issues about available space in the office for such a move and the need for the London office to have more staff members. The reply was copied to the premier’s office.
“Regrettably, I have to copy in the Hon. Premier and let him waste his time reading this message too since you have misled him on this,” Lord Blencathra wrote to the staffer. “In the future, you will follow the
chain of command, as you have been instructed to do on numerous occasions.”
The London office staff member replied: “I..resent and take strong offense to you suggesting that I mislead the Hon. Premier or anyone else, as you have twisted my words to suit your agenda once again. I will take further action the next time this happens!”
“…you do not have the authority to unilaterally make decisions on matters with respect to Cayman Islands government office facilities in London. Now, until my people in Cayman, where I am employed and to whom I report can get the chance to read your consultancy agreement with the Cayman Islands government and give me specific instructions that it gives you this authority that you have assumed, [redacted] remains the same.”
Lord Blencathra wrote the chief officer of the Ministry of Home Affairs, Eric Bush, about the situation in June 2013: “As you can see, we have a problem in London that [the staff member] will not accept my authority, however nicely I ask.” Mr. Bush replied that he was “not happy” with the tone of [the employee’s] last email to Lord Blencathra.
In early July, Lord Blencathra suggested alternate arrangements for the maritime authority office space where they could use his own large office on Arlington Street in London. “This is not the ideal solution, but it allows [the maritime authority] girl to start immediately..”
The London office staffer also objected to this plan, writing Mr. Bush and proposing another alternative for the location of the maritime authority office staff. Following further lengthy communication with Lord Blencathra on the subject, Mr. Bush said he was happy to do as Lord Blencathra proposed and that office accommodation was a matter for Lord Blencathra as head of the London office. Lord Blencathra then wrote to the London office staffer seeking to confirm the new arrangement.
The employee responded: “I have received your message and if you are here when I return from my meetings this morning, we can discuss an alternative arrangement, as I am not able to accommodate your noble suggestion. Please remember that office is not yours.”
Lord Blencathra replied: “There is NOTHING more to discuss. Our chief officer has approved [the] suggestion to vacate your current office and give it to [the maritime authority]. I also instruct you to do that and commence work on it immediately.”
The staffer replied: “I DEMAND A MEETING WITH YOU BY 11:30 THIS MORNING AT THE CIGO BOARDROOM BEFORE IN LEAVE FOR MY NEXT MEETING.”
Mr. Bush, the chief officer, wrote to the London office employee stating that “he must side with Lord Blencathra as he is the head of the London office.”
In summarizing his complaint to Cayman Islands government officials in July, Lord Blencathra stated: “[The employee’s] interference in delicate policy matters at a high political level, for which I am responsible, has resulted in some shambles and almost catastrophe.”
On July 26, 2013, chief officer Bush responded to the complaint by Lord Blencathra, stating he was “struck by the disrespectful tone” of an earlier email sent by the London office employee.
“While I appreciate that there may be differences of opinion between you and Lord Blencathra, you must recognize that he is your line manager….”, Mr. Bush said. “I would advise you that any further discourse/communication which is undertaken in the disrespectful tone of some of your recent emails to Lord Blencathra will be considered to be in direct contravention of the code of conduct and values and may result in disciplinary action.”
The two employees referenced in the complaint by Lord Blencathra still work at the Cayman Islands London office.