Worked in Parliament for five years. Branch Secretary of Parliamentary T&G branch. Founding partner of Raynsford and Morris, Head of Government Affairs and Associate Director at GCI. Managing Director of Connect and GPC Connect and then Connect Public Affairs. Owner and Chief Executive of Connect Communications and former Chair of the APPC.
What academic/professional qualifications do you have?
Politics Degree at Woolwich Polytechnic (now Greenwich University)
What do you enjoy about working in public affairs?
The politics and the constant change. I also love developing and growing talent and helping people forge successful careers. Achieving successful results for clients.
You had an early childhood political baptism when the then Labour Leader Harold Wilson held you up to a crowd declaring “this is what we’re fighting for”. What was it like growing up in a political family?
I think I am very lucky to have witnessed so many General Elections, changes in government, Churchill’s funeral and party conferences. Meeting and knowing some great politicians at an early age and being able to remember some key political changes and events was formative. At first I thought my Father and Uncle Charlie (both elected in 1964) were like celebrities and felt very proud. Luckily I have Northern roots and am very grounded so I didn’t let it go to my head! The downside is that you probably don’t always see as much of your Dad as you might like but we did have a lot of fun and as far as possible the whole family would tag along, join in campaigning or pop to Parliament to say “Hello”.
With such a Labour background, how was it starting your career in the 80s during the seemingly endless trail of Conservative Governments?
Working in Parliament for Labour MPs in the 80s was great. I worked there before Tony Blair’s by-election win. Whilst we were beleaguered by the state of the Party and its general lack of appeal; it was a highly political time from the miners’ strike to poll tax riots there was always plenty of fighting passion and, therefore, lots of policies to fiercely oppose. It was also great to see the foundations for change being laid in the Labour Party. It was probably one of the best times to be working in Parliament but very different to today.
Setting up Raynsford & Morris (with Nick Raynsford) as a consultancy following the 1987 General Election, what were your priorities, challenges and successes?
Nick and I took a very risky course setting up a business – almost unheard of for two Labour people without any business experience to set up an agency. Fortunately, it was the right decision and after a lot of hard work, long hours and good advice we became a force to be reckoned with; helping local government, tenant groups, housing associations and charities get results and we proudly achieved a Government climbdown on national TV in our efforts to change the Tory Government’s housing proposals. It was a lot of fun but sometimes when I look back I wonder how we actually did it. I know I had to learn fast how to run a business, manage campaigns and speak in public to rowdy tenants groups around the country. One thing for sure is that there was a need for the product and I think we can claim to have changed and influenced a lot of Conservative housing and welfare policy at local and national level.
You led a management buy-out of Connect in 1998, establishing Connect Public Affairs as an independent company in 1998: what challenges did you overcome? How do these differ to the current challenges facing the public affairs consultancy sector?
It was the only decision I could make but I also didn’t have any money to buy Connect. The plan had been to merge Market Access, Connect and GPC altogether into one big company to form GPC. Mergers and aquisitions seemed to be more prevalent then and it is interesting to note that none survived but Connect has.
We had to ensure that our existing clients would walk with us and that existing staff felt part of the business and our future plans. I always believed that our model and reputation was strong and fortunately with the incoming Labour Government, Connect’s credentials proved popular. Within three years we had paid back what we owed and Connect was firmly established as an independent company. I am not sure what would happen today but I have to say that making Connect one of the longest established independent public affairs companies in the UK is a triumph and something I am enormously proud of.
In your role as Chief Executive, how involved do you remain in client work?
There are clients like UNISON who have been with us from the beginning where I have always maintained a hands on role. There are also clients where I have a particular interest and new business ideas and products that I like to lead on.
As a consultant more used to advising and guiding clients, how did you find the experience in 2008 of giving evidence to the Public Administration Select Committee’s inquiry into Lobbying: Access and Influence in Whitehall?
It was a very pivotal experience for me personally and also for the industry. It is interesting to be on the other side and I suppose it emphasised the value of good Select Committee training and preparation. That experience still proves to be a really useful experience when prepping our clients for a Select Committee appearance.
You’ve been pivotal in the development of the public affairs industry - notably through your role in setting up the APPC - how much work remains to be done to fulfil your vision of ensuring ‘ethical lobbying’ and improving the perception of the industry?
There is still a long way to go and am currently looking at other statutory registers in other countries at how best to achieve a statutory regime that works, is fair, proportionate and delivers transparency. My aim is to ensure that the industry – those operating as third party lobbyists in the UK – is recognised as a force for good and necessary. I think we can do this but we are not helped by the current Lobbying Act.
Which campaign/issue are you most proud to have been involved in securing legislative change? What makes this stand-out in your career?
I think it has to be achieving legislative change to the Adoption and Children’s Act – which gave unmarried couples the right to adopt. It was a very clever campaign and clearly it has made a huge difference to so many people.
Connect recently announced plans for a radical shake up in response to changing UK politics. What are your thoughts on the immediate and longer term political climate?
It’s a very exciting time in UK politics. Devolved power will make Westminster less vital. My plan is to capture the future and make sure that everyone knows that Connect does more, goes further than most and we deliver results. I will always go the extra mile and so does everyone at Connect. I want to realise our potential and go far beyond the Westminster bubble.
What's your prediction for the 2015 General Election?
Hung Parliament with Labour as the largest party. Interesting times.
|Which politician, past or present, would you like to be stuck in a lift with? What issues would you raise?||I was stuck in a lift with Cecil Parkinson at the time of Sara Keays. I suppose it would be the late John Smith. It would be interesting to get the answer to the question “What would have happened if you hadn’t died?”|
|LinkedIN or Twitter?|
|Tweet your career-to-date in 140 characters or less||Always onwards and upwards; take a risk and ride the storm. Boldly go and aim high. Confident not arrogant.|
|Favourite restaurant for a business lunch?||Quirinale|
|What’s your Media diet?||Radio 4|
|Favourite Film||Singing in the Rain|