Monthly Archives: September 2009

Speaking with the enemy, piano shenanigans and the last lobbyist standing in Brighton

As I prepare to leave Brighton, here goes a few rather hazy recollections from last night:

It’s midnight at The Grand Hotel. The bar is eight-deep and the public affairs community is out in force. Deep in the throng, I spy ubiquitous Bell Pottinger top lobbyist Peter Bingle chatting jovially to David Hencke, the former Guardian hack who not so long ago wrote that Bingle had landed the Tories in a cash-for-access row.

No hard feelings then, Peter?

Moments later Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw is leading a merry sing-song around the piano. The man with an impressive talent for tinkling the ivory is none other than former ITV corporate affairs chief and one-time special adviser Jim Godfrey (now boss of PR firm GallieGodfrey). But the award for most enthusiastic participant goes to Lansons Communications boss Tony Langham for his belting contribution to classics including I’m A Believer, Hey Jude and Jerusalem.

Get that man to a kareoke party!

Time to check out the Hilton next door. It’s more restrained here. APPC chair is Robbie MacDuff chatting away by the bar. Sovereign Strategy consultant Jon Midgley, who happens to bear a remarkable resemblance to The Think Of It’s Olly Reeder, is reclined in a comfy-looking armchair, deep in conversation with two mystery characters. Hanover boss Charles Lewington makes a late appearance, but by 3am it’s thinning out here.

Back to the Grand. Previous stalwarts such as Bingle, Lionel Zetter, Rory O’Neil and John Lehal appear to have called it a night already. Labour Twitter tsar Kerry McCarthy is still in circulation, as is Caroline Flint. But where are all the lobbyists? As 4am approaches, the award for last lobbyist standing is looking like a two-way fight between Insight Public Affairs consultant Amanda Stuart and Hanover director James Gurling. Who will crack first?

As Stuart heads for the exit door, we have a winner! Gurling accepts the news of his imminent award with good grace, and even reveals his secret to avoiding a stonking hangover: a pint of flat coke.

Cheers James!

You can take the champagne from the lobbyist…

As last night’s New Statesman party draws to a close, the champers is a distant memory and everyone must make do with beer and warm(ish) white wine.

But what is this? Across the room I spy a select trio happily quaffing fine champagne with former New Statesman owner Geoffrey Robinson. Among their number is Edelman top lobbyist Michael Burrell.

Good work, Michael. Clearly you can take the champagne from the lobbyist but you cannot take the lobbyist from the champagne…

Lobbyists spotted in Brighton

I’m in Brighton. The number of exhibitions stands seems to have plummeted drastically compared with previous Labour conferences. Will the same turn out to be true of lobbyist numbers?

It’s still warming up, but there is anecdotal evidence to suggest that reports of lobbyists boycotting the Labour conference will prove to be somewhat off the mark.

Already working the bar of the Grand Hotel is lobbying’s ‘leading lady’ Gill Morris. Fishburn Hedges’ Simon Redfern has also arrived in good time for the ‘twinge’ he is hosting with Channel 4 on Monday. Luke Pollard of Edelman has been here since last night – then again he is a Labour PPC.

Even some Tory lobbyists have made it down in advance of the New Statesman bash tonight. Among their number Bell Pottinger’s Peter Bingle who I just observed picking up a rather large armchair, which he then proceeded to cart from one end of the Grand Hotel to the other. ‘It’s for a minister,’ he claimed.

Now there’s service for you!

Revealed in The Times today: the secret tactics of a Tory lobbyist

So, The Times has hit the public affairs industry with an investigation in to those Tory PPCs employed as lobbyists.

I may blog more on this later. For now, one quote jumps out of the page.

Damian Collins has been selected as the Tory candidate to succeed Michael Howard in Folkestone & Hythe. Since September, he has been working for Lexington Communications.

What insights does he bring to the table? How does he help Lexington’s clients find their way around the Tory leadership? He tells the paper of his cunning strategy:

‘I will give a company the names of shadow ministers if they want to talk to someone…’

Portland ups the ante by snaring Portillo

Blimey! Even I’m now struggling to keep up with the thirst for Tories that exisits among the UK’s lobbying consultancies.

Hot on the heels of Fleishman-Hillard’s Tory spending spree (see below), Portland has upped the ante by landing one of the Conservative Party’s true big guns – none other than Michael Denzil Xavier Portillo.

Of course, Portillo won’t be dealing with clients on a day-to-day basis. Rather, he will be on hand to provide occasional top-level strategic advice about how to deal with the Tories.

Nevertheless, Portillo is one of the biggest names to sign for a lobbying consultancy in years and it will be interesting to see how rival consultancies react. Will they follow suit and turn to the big hitters of the late 90s? If nobody is leaving Conservative Central Office, some may decide it’s the ony way to reel in a Tory. If things get really desperate, maybe someone will try to sign Peter Lilley…

Stranger things have happened. I vaguely recall a lobbying consultancy hiring Norman Tebbit back in April this year

Fleishman-Hillard goes Tory crazy, but CCO staffers stay put

As lobbying consultancies prepare to deal with David Cameron, Fleishman-Hillard has gone on something of a Conservative spending spree, hiring three Tories in one go.

The most senior is Andrew Cumpsty, leader of the Conservatives on Reading Council and a former PPC. They have also brought in a couple of younger Tories who are still ascending the greasy pole. The trio of hires comes a couple of months after the agency brought in Tory PPC Chris Heaton-Harris.

Clearly Fleishman has embarked on a major expedition to reel in some Tory talent. Yet while its recent catches have solid Tory credentials, none of them were plucked from the depths of Conservative Central Office.

Perhaps those at the heart of the Tory operation have decided to stay put?

Tory sources suggest that this is indeed the case, with the jostling for a limited number government special adviser jobs already under way. A number of top aides have already been privately informed they have made the cut. Others have yet to hear either way – but they live in hope…

Tory lobbying threat won’t change much until it translates in to action

So, the Tories have warned lobbyists that refuse to reveal their clients.

Francis Maude said: ‘Greater openness and transparency is needed to help ensure high standards in public life. If the industry fails to self-regulate, it should be prepared for legislation which will ensure greater accountability.’

The Tories have confirmed this means they want to see all agencies publishing client lists and staff names – ideally voluntarily.

That may be a tad optimistic. If self-regulation hasn’t happened yet, there’s no reason why should happen now. In fact, noises today from high up at one of the big ‘rogue consultancies’ indicate that life will carry on very much as normal. They will not be goaded in to revealing their full client list.

My hunch is that pigs will fly over Westminster before all lobbying consultancies agree to reveal all their clients voluntarily.

But if as promised the Tories force the issue, those same lobbyists will have no choice. It will be interesting to see the Tory manifesto…