There is a long tradition in the public affairs industry of recruiting from Westminster and Whitehall.
Inevitably, countless lobbyists began their careers working for MPs, as Special Advisers, within Whitehall departments, or for one of the parties.
So prevalent is a background within politics amongst public affairs professionals that I am often asked by candidates whether it is a prerequisite for securing a role. It isn’t, but a glance at the early careers of many leaders in the industry could certainly give that impression.
Historically this ‘revolving door’ has been limited to one-way traffic – bar the occasional lobbyist elected to Parliament it was pretty unusual for public affairs consultants to move into politics proper.
However, under the coalition there has been an increasing trend for the flow to operate in the opposite direction: since 2010 there have been several examples of high profile political posts going to public affairs professionals.
In the main this has been agency consultants becoming special advisers: hanover have seen no fewer than three of their consultants poached since May 2010 (Ed Jones now works for Jeremy Hunt, James Wild for Michael Fallon, and Nick King for Maria Miller). Other agencies who have lost consultants to SpAd-dom include Luther Pendragon (former Associate Director Zoe Thorogood now works for Eric Pickles), Fishburn Hedges (whose Laura Wyld is now head of the Prime Minister’s Appointments Unit), and even Crosby Textor (former consultant Guy Robinson now advises Owen Paterson at the Environment Agency).
This trend is not limited to consultancies; Tara Singh (formerly Head of Public Affairs at Centrica) now works at Number 10 on energy policy, Veena Hudson (formerly at Monitor and the Association of Chartered Accountants) is one of Nick Clegg’s aides, as is Alex Dziedzan (formerly of Nacro).
Of course, there have also been the usual occasional departures of SpAds moving into private sector communications roles (notably former George Osborne adviser Poppy Mitchell-Rose going to freuds). It is notable that we have heard less about such departures than we have about consultants going in the other direction.
This trend poses questions and challenges for the public affairs industry, as well as opportunities. The anecdotal evidence I have heard is that Special Advisers with a background in public affairs are nothing less than totally professional when dealing with the sector, as one would expect from an industry which now takes its role and legitimacy very seriously.
It is too early to say whether the increasing number of former lobbyists now advising ministers will have any material impact on the sector (I suspect not) but in my view is does represent something of a bellwether for the regard in which the public affairs industry is now held by politicians.