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Home > Politics

Out with the old, in with the ex-PR man

There will be no (more) blarney in the Blairhouse.

Paul Carr

4 September 2003

From Lord Bell, head of Chime Communications Plc (the parent company of David Hill's Good Relations Ltd):

"Perceptions are real. If you're playing for real they have to be favourable. Your ability to persuade people to listen to you, understand what you are saying, and support you, will determine whether you win or lose."

From The Guardian:

"In his statement about the resignation of Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair said the media's picture of Alastair Campbell was a caricature. If that is true, then the picture emerging of his successor, David Hill, is the opposite of a spin-mad, Machiavellian bully.

The most quoted trait displayed by Birmingham-born Mr Hill, 55, is scrupulous honesty - an attribute that the British public appears to believe is in short supply in Downing Street at the moment."

Well thank God. The days of spin are over. David Hill's arrival heralds a new dawn of honesty in Number Ten. There will be no (more) blarney in the Blairhouse.

"I think that most people who have dealt with me think I'm a pretty straight sort of guy.."

Back in 2001, David Hill was in the spotlight for a different reason - his position as an executive at Bell-Pottinger Communications and managing director of Good Relations ltd. Or more accurately the fact that he had taken 'unpaid leave' from those jobs to act as Labour's senior press spokesman during the 2001 election campaign.

As Hill normally charges 250 an hour for his services, there was some concern over the fact that Labour was benefiting from hundreds of hours of his time for nothing. At the time a bill dealing with how far political parties are able to use unpaid consultants - the Political Parties (Funding) Bill - was waiting to become law. Had it been passed, the fact that Labour neglected to formally declare Hill's appointment would have left them in breach of the bill (or the Act as it would have been then) and open to prosecution. But the bill was still a bill and so not legally binding - and so Labour was in the clear. Phew.

However, the self-regulatory body of the PR industry, theAssociation of Professional Political Consultants were so concerned about Labour's use of Hill's services (which weren't really free - as they were all part of a general package of Lobbying and media relations services provided to Labour by Hill's associates, the rest of which were very much paid for) that they approached the Electoral Commission and independent legal advisors to see whether there had been a breach of election rules or their own Code Of Conduct.

As an aside, it's lucky for Hill that his new job isn't covered by the APPC Code of Conduct. Here's part five...

"Political consultants must advise clients where their objectives may be illegal, unethical or contrary to professional practice, and to refuse to act for a client in pursuance of any such objective."

(Tony: George wants to invade Syria but there's absolutely no legal justification for it. What can you do for me, David? David: Um...)

In the end no definitive answer could be agreed on, Labour won the election and the Political Parties (Funding) Bill was quietly dropped when parliament reconvened.

Meanwhile, Hill went back to Good Relations to represent clients like Coca Cola, Monsanto, Nestle and Securicor. Recent lobbying successes include convincing the Government to drop the ban on gambling with credit cards and helping Securicor to secure private contracts in the prison service. What a guy.

Fast forward two years and Hill is back at Millbank, fresh from his work defending the indefensible and ready to take on the biggest challenge of his career - restoring the voter's trust in the Labour Party.

An ex-PR man taking over from an ex-journalist to put an end to the spin at the heart of Government. Honestly.

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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