So just why is the President of the United States of America Barack Obama hugging a Norwich City fan?
12:43 03 December 2012
Dubbed the “backroom Brit”, Matthew McGregor was instrumental in securing Barack Obama’s second presidential term. He spoke to REBECCA GOUGH about working on the campaign, and the trials of supporting Norwich City from thousands of miles away.
Growing up in Norfolk, Matthew McGregor was a boy with a keen interest in American politics. But even he could never have imagined he would one day help bring the US president to victory.
Yet it was the 33-year-old Canaries fan – and his colleagues, he is quick to stress – who earlier this year ruffled feathers in the Romney camp as part of Barack Obama’s campaign team.
Responsible for responding every time the opposition spoke out, Mr McGregor directed the digital rapid response team and ensured that any statement by the Republican was analysed and refuted.
“It was our job to respond every time Mitt Romney criticised the president, through the website and various Twitter feeds and to make online videos – whether we were putting together clips from news broadcasts or just saying his latest TV ad wasn’t true,” he said.
“It wasn’t just about getting our message across but engaging our supporters in an interesting way and explaining what we were trying to get across but to make it entertaining enough to share with their friends.”
Mr McGregor, who lived in Norwich until he was eight, where he attended Heartsease First School, and then Thetford, where he attended Redcastle Primary School and the former Charles Burrell High, showed a keen interest in politics as a youngster and delivered leaflets for the Labour Party before he could even vote.
At the age of 15 he campaigned against the British National Party and later studied politics at Sheffield university before landing a job as a student union official.
He went on to run Jon Cruddas’ campaign for deputy leader of the Labour Party in 2007, and became involved in Ken Livingstone’s London mayoral bid in 2008 before securing a job setting up the London office for American company Blue State Digital. From there he transferred to the Washington DC office.
It was, however, working for Obama for America, in Chicago, where he now lives with his wife, which, he said, saw him fulfil a personal ambition.
“It was really exciting from a professional and personal point of view,” he added. “I’ve been really obsessed with American politics since I was a kid and I remember the 1988 presidential election when I was eight so it was a privilege to work for the president.
“I’m a huge admirer of what he’s done and what he continues to do.
“He came to the office several times during the campaign and said ‘hi’ and got talking to the staff but there were 400 of us, give or take, so it wasn’t so much getting to know him as him coming into the office.
“The day after we won he came to say thank you and gave a speech which was a real privilege. He’s the president of the Unites States and he thanked everybody individually.
“To be able to play a small role in re-electing the president is a great privilege. It’s obviously hard work but to be there on the night in the office with the people I’ve worked here with all year is something that will stay with me.”
Mr McGregor, who worked alongside a digital team of 130, will stay on as part of a skeleton staff for the next two weeks, after which he will fly back to the UK for Christmas – and to squeeze in a game or two of his beloved Norwich City.
He added: “I still watch the games and it was a particularly tough time when the campaign got busy so I couldn’t even watch them on a Saturday towards the end, but people in the office were so supportive and I got games updates from other people, which was nice.
“It’s a gruelling experience because you’re tethered to your email and the campaign for 24 hours a day, literally in many cases when it gets busy.”
Mr McGregor, whose father was the vicar at St Francis Church in Heartsease and then St Cuthbert’s Church in Thetford, was unable to travel to the UK during the election and has not seen his home town, or his football team, for more than a year. He now intends to take some time out while he recovers from the intensity of the campaign and decides on his next role.
He added: “When people over here ask me where I’m from and I say Norwich and they give me a puzzled look I always get my phone out and go to Google maps and show them where I’m from, otherwise they assume it’s somewhere near London and that won’t do. I’m really proud of where I’m from and I want people to know that.
“When I was growing up Thetford Forest was a big part of weekends and whenever I’m back I try to get out there – it’s such a beautiful part of the world.
“This is going to sound silly but there’s also nowhere like shopping in Norwich. It’s not like a big shopping mall, it’s got proper streets and shops and it’s good for Christmas shopping.”