Monthly Archives: August 2009

Lobbyists rush to shed their Labour colours, but who are the true Cameroons?

The latest musings from Bell Pottinger’s public affairs supremo Peter Bingle have found their way in to my inbox.

Tucked away among the numerous opera references is this passage in which Bingle argues that fellow lobbyists are desperately trying to shed their Labour colours:

‘As we approach the inevitability of a David Cameron government… there are public affairs agencies who have sought so successfully over the years to attach themselves to New Labour that they are now unable to detach themselves. The MDs of these companies will soon be writing articles in PR Week arguing that political networks no longer matter. ‘

Of course, some of Bingle’s rivals have already begun taking this approach.

Tim Allan, boss of Portland PR and former deputy to Alastair Campbell, recently said of his approach to business: ‘It has always been about giving political insight and running campaigns. The fact that there may be a change in government is not something that makes me particularly concerned.’

Other Labour-leaning public affairs bosses such as Mike Craven of Lexington and Darren Murphy of APCO are keeping their heads down – for now.

But while there may well be lots of Labour types hanging around the public affairs world, and plenty of old Tories, are there any touchy-feely Cameroons leading the industry in to the new political dawn?

Few lobbyists have tried to grasp the mantle, but one did give it a go back in 2008.

‘I’m a huge fan of David. I’ve known him since 1988. He was a Thatcherite then, so was I. He’s changed, so have I. Politics has moved on.’

Now who could that have been…?

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Tories reiterate plans for lobbying crackdown

At the end of last year, the Tories announced they would introduce new financial controls on lobbying as part of a wider plan to scale back ‘Whitehall spin’.

Since then, they’ve been a bit quiet on the issue. So quiet, in fact, that I was beginning to wonder if they might be quietly shelving this policy.

Then a letter dropped in to the PR Week inbox, from shadow cabinet office minister Nick Hurd:

‘The latest research from the Taxpayers’ Alliance that government is spending £37m a year on lobbying government highlights the bureaucratic state we’re in under Labour. This expenditure is waste of taxpayers’ money… 

‘A Conservative Government will follow the example of the United States, introducing rules to stop central public sector bodies hiring lobbyists to bid for more funds or legislative favours….’

 The full letter is in this week’s magazine.

Clearly Nick Hurd does not intend to let this one go…

PR people scared to speak out as Freuds grabs more Government cash

PR Week’s recent front page exclusive about the Government handing a massive £1m brief to Freud Communications has caused a bit of a stir in the PR industry.

My clear sense is that large numbers of PR people are rather frustrated about the fact that Matthew Freud increasingly seems to be grabbing a lot of the government cash set aside for PR campaigns.

But nobody will say so publicly. Yesterday I asked one senior PR person to go one the record about it. This was their response:

‘If I was about to retire, then yes. Am still reeling from it, but that Freud/Murdoch axis is too powerful….Doubt anyone would go on the record… But very odd that no-one’s batted an eyelid…’

Will the next parliament be flooded with lobbyists or right-wingers?

After weeks of coverage in PR Week, The Sunday Times has latched on to the fact that general election candidates are increasingly popping up in the world of lobbying.

According to Marie Woolf in The Sunday Times today: ‘The next election was supposed to mark a fresh start for Britain’s political system with a new intake of MPs untainted by Westminster scandal.’

BUT: ‘It has now emerged… that more than 50 prospective candidates chosen by the main parties are already working as lobbyists and public relations executives.’

 (The figure of 50 was actually dug up last week by Ian Hall of Public Affairs News)

The prospect of the next parliament being flooded by lobbyists is worth examining. But how many of these 50 PPCs have any chance of winning their seat? And how many of those with a chance of winning are bona fide lobbyists (as opposed to candidates doing a few months in PR to tide them over until the election)? Much less than 50, is the answer.

On the other hand the number of Tory PPCs with strong right-wing credentials (‘less concerned about climate change than terrorism, oppose green taxes and are hostile to gay adoptions’) appears to be well over 50.

In short, we may get a few lobbyists entering parliament at the next election, but this won’t be the main trait of the new intake. More numerous will be the right-wingers who make David Cameron look like Tony Benn.

Although in some cases, such as Tory PPC and Weber Shandwick director Priti Patel, there might be some cross-over…

More Tories make the switch in to lobbying

The recession may be dragging on, but the scramble to hire Tories continues in the public affairs world.

Last week we had Fleishman Hillard hiring Tory PPC Chris Heaton Harris. This week we learn that another Tory PPC, Kevin Davis, is involved in setting up a lobbying shop called Cratus. The latest edition of PR Week also brings the news that Hanover has hired former Ken Clarke aide Neil  Lindsay and Game Changer (the consultancy recently set up by Labour bloggers including John Prescott’s son) has even hired its first Tory.

Meanwhile over lunch today, a public affairs boss tells me has a decent pot of cash set aside for a new hire. But the money will only be spent on a Tory…

Bell Pottinger lobbyist responds to furore over cancellation of Tory champagne reception

A mole gets in contact. Following the news that Bell Pottinger is cancelling its champagne reception at the Tory conference, the agency’s public affairs chairman Peter Bingle has sent a note to his team:

‘There is a different more sombre mood at Westminster. MPs now look over their collective shoulders. The old confidence and swagger has gone. The Palace of Westminster is a rather sad place….

 ‘Somehow the public’s trust in their elected representatives must be rebuilt. The next government is going to have to deal with the most enormous challenges. To be effective it will need to carry the public with it. To do that, politics must once again become important and relevant to the everyday lives of the public.

‘The public affairs world has its role to play in this process. When we do our job well we ensure proper dialogue between government and outside interests (commercial and non-commercial) which leads to better governance and good laws being passed. Our role is particularly important during times of change. We are sometimes attacked for what we do but most politicians understand our role and work well with us.  Friendships at Westminster are not and never have been beholden to one’s political party.

‘This year’s party conference season is going to be the most important since 1996. Political change is in the air but the air is sombre and serious. It is for that reason that we will not be holding our annual party. This year’s party conferences will be different and rightly so. We need to respect that.

‘At some stage in the future the political and public mood will change. It is important that it does so as there should always be room for fun in politics.’

Top lobbyist cancels champagne reception at Tory conference

I understand that Bell Pottinger is cancelling the champagne reception it usually holds in party conference season.

Bell Pottinger has held a champagne reception at one of the party conferences for the last 62 years (or something like that). There was great fanfare last year when the lobbyists announced they would be switching the annual champagne-fest from Labour conference to the Tory bash for the first time since the 1990s. The move was thought to symbolise Labour’s downfall and Cameron’s inevitable march towards Downing Street.

But this year it seems that not even the Tories will be getting the Bell Pottinger champagne treatment.

Why? I call Bell Pottinger public affairs supremo Peter Bingle for the lowdown. ‘The public mood has changed,’ he tells me. ‘The public is in a much more serious place than 12 months ago. Politics and public affairs has to adapt to that.’

Of course, Bingle is well aware that the Tories don’t want to be seen in public with his band of merry consultants. The Tories recently told lobbyists to back off in the pages of PR Week and they will be even more wary about dealing with them in the future following a recent warning from Guido Fawkes (see post below).

At this year’s conference Bell Pottinger and other lobbyists will hoping to deal with the Tories behind closed doors.

UPDATE: A version of this story is now on the PRWeek website