Monthly Archives: January 2010

Sunday Times reveals lobbyists’ advice to Audit Commission

Lobbying has been out of the headlines for a bit, but now it’s back – thanks to this story on the front page of the Sunday Times.

The paper reports that the Audit Commission shelled out £60,000 to Connect Public Affairs amid conerns over plans being cooked up by Eric Pickles.  

So what were our friends at Connect were telling their client? According to the paper, they provided the watchdog with advice on ‘how to undermine Tory frontbenchers who challenged its activities’.

Fellow lobbyists will be intrigued to read how Connect lobbyists advised the watchdog to foment a rebellion in the Tory grassroots:

‘Many Conservative local authority leaders do not follow national party lines. Therefore there is a good opportunity for the commission to exploit any potential differences in opinion.’

Connect lobbyists also urged the commission to put up a ‘strong local lobbying response in order to mitigate and combat the activities of Eric Pickles’.

Sensible stuff? Standard lobbying techniques? Perhaps so, but the Tories are claiming to be outraged that it has been payed for with taxpayer cash.

Pickles tells the Sunday Times: ‘It is disgraceful that I and other taxpayers have had to pay for the Audit Commission to do the Labour party’s dirty work.’

(The reference to the Labour Party seems to be exapined by the fact that senior folk at both the Audit Commission and Connect have strong Labour credentials….)

On Twitter today, the story provoked further reaction, from fellow lobbyist Bell Pottinger’s Peter Bingle to heavyweight Tory commentor Danny Finkelstein who went as far as to brand it a ‘scandal’.

Meanwhile Connect director Matt Bryant was working himself in to a right old state. However his agitation was apparently unrelated to his firm’s unexpected appearance on the front page of the Sunday Times.

As the story hit the streets, sports nut Matt told his followers he was ‘trying to watch murray v federer but finding it unbearable…’

Two Tories quit CCHQ for lobbying roles

Lobbying firms have thus far struggled to lure Conservative staffers away from CCHQ, but could the tide be turning?

As the Tory machine gears up for the election with a recruitment drive, two of the team have decided to move in to public affairs.

Laura Davies, an aide to Chris Grayling is off to lobby for the Wine and Spirits Association. At the same time, Lisa Thomas, media adviser to the Tories’ environment and climate change team, has been snapped up by TLG as it continues to bolster its Tory credentials – and threaten the established order of Tory lobbying agencies.

It’s not exactly a tidal wave of resignations, but could yet prove to be the start of an oderly queue in the CCHQ departure lounge. Indeed, in a seperate development, Tory press chiefs have now made their minds up which press officers deserve Downing Street special adviser jobs and are even speading the word among certain lobby hacks…

PS. Apologies for the lack of posts of late. I was on the slopes. Normal service should now resume.

Tories search for new ad chief after Cameron airbrushing furore

As the dust settles on the recent debacle of the ‘airbrushed’ election ad, the Tories are looking to make a ‘senior addition to the brand communications team’.

An ad has just gone up for the job of General Election Brand Communications Manager at CCHQ.

It states: ‘This is a one-off opportunity to work with the team up to the General Election on all their advertising and marketing activity.’

Among the skills required in the new role are a ‘high level of diligence and attention to detail’.

Interesting eh?

Er, not really, insists a Tory source: ‘It’s just part of the usual staff increase that goes on prior to the general election. The new person will report to Anna Maren-Ashford, who’s got overall responsibility for brand management, and Tom Edmonds, who is deputy head of the department.’

So there you have it. A mere coincidence of timing.

And there was I wondering if Tory strategy guru Steve Hilton sensed the need to improve his team to avoid another clanger slipping through the net…!

Leading lobbyists compared to TV’s cockney crook Arthur Daley

How to get those secretive lobbyists to reveal their clients? The likes of Bell Pottinger Public Affairs are yet to be persuaded by calls from MPs on the public administration committee. Meanwhile the Government has shown little appetite for changing the law.

Now one Labour MP is upping the ante. The Evening Standard attributes the following quote to John Grogan:

‘The likes of Lord Bell and Peter Bingle of Bell Pottinger, and Alan Parker of Brunswick, are in danger of becoming the Arthur Daleys of the public affairs industry if they hold out against the declaration of clients.’

Ouch! Looks like it’s getting personal…

Tory lobbyist is behind Steve Hilton’s ‘Rasputin’ nickname

Many hacks covering the story of Tory strategy director Steve Hilton’s yobbish behaviour have used the same three word term to describe Dave’s image guru.

According to papers from the Telegraph to the Mirror, Hilton is a ‘pint sized Rasputin’.

But who coined the term? Step forward the fragrant Tara Hamilton-Miller, Weber Shandwick lobbyist and former Tory press handler.

Tara came up with the phrase when she featured in a BBC documentaryby Michael Cockerill that aired in December 2007.

In the same breath, she also described Hilton as ‘incredibly intelligent’.

Sadly, that bit seems to have been forgotten…

Cameron turns to Obama

Rumour has it that Tory spinners plan to cast David Cameron as Britain’s Barack Obama. Strategy director Steve Hilton is especially keen, according to The Spectator’s astute online editor James Forsyth.

He recently wrote that: ‘Hilton… wants to run a campaign high on vision, presenting Cameron as both a unifying figure and the “change we need”.’

On the other hand, George Osborne thinks that the Tories need to have more of a retail offer, things to sell on the doorstep.

So whose advice will Cameron take?

An early sign that Cameron may take the Obama approach came on Radio 4 yesterday when Cameron asked about his recent commments on tax breaks for married couples.

‘I messed up up,’ said Dave.

Tory sources say it is no coincidence that Obama got out of a similarly tight corner in 2009 by admitting: ‘I screwed up.’

Cameron rewrites 1997 Blair speech for Sun readers

Did Dave’s speechwriters have a quick read of Tony Blair’s 1997 Labour conference speech before composing today’s “upbeat” New Year message to Sun readers?

In 1997 Blair told a packed conference hall:

“We are one of the great innovative peoples.  From the Magna Carta to the first Parliament to the industrial revolution to  an empire that covered the world; most of the great inventions of modern times with Britain stamped on them: the telephone; the television; the computer; penicillin; the hovercraft; radar…

“Even today, we lead the world, in design, pharmaceuticals, financial services, telecommunications.  We have the world’s first language.  Britain today is an exciting, inspiring place to be.  And it can be much more.”

And today Cameron tells The Sun’s readers:

“We’re also famous for our inventiveness. Over the years our little island has always punched above its weight by inventing the products the world wants, from Christmas crackers and television to penicillin and the jet engine.

“One of the biggest success stories of the past decade – the iPod – was designed by a Brit. Just imagine what British brains will give the world in the decade to come.”

As the Tories deploy the “Time for a Change” argument ahead of the election, more of this Blair-esque rhetoric is to be expected.

But a word of advice to Team Dave:

In future speeches along the same lines, try to avoid heaping praise on the milionnaire Formula 1 driver who avoids paying taxes in the UK by living in Switzerland…