Poor old APCO. The lobbying firm invests high levels of effort into persuading Francis Maude to be guest on honour at their reception at Tory conference. He agrees. Then The Times calls up Tory HQ talking about a ‘conflict of interest’ and Maude is forced to pull out at the last minute.
As The Times notes, this comes after Maude recently issued a ‘tough warning’ to lobbyists. The message from Maude was: act transparently or face statutory legislation.
But APCO is already pretty transparent. Unlike some agencies, it signs up to the APPC code and therefore discloses its client list every quarter. So what’s the prob?
The episode merely underlines , once again, how jittery the Tories are about being seen to be close to lobbyists. Tory press chiefs will have seen the negative headlines coming when the Times called. Evidently, it was decided that the story would have less legs if Maude agreed to shun the reception.
As other lobbying firms head to Manchester this weekend, they will be hoping that their private meetings with top Tories are not similarly affected…
UPDATE: Francis Ingham, boss of PR industry body the PRCA, has blogged about this development, saying it ‘should worry us all’.