Profile: Jim Godfrey, Labour Party - Putting a new spin on Labour's spin doctor - Jim Godfrey proves that, for some, work really can be a Labour of love

Everybody who meets Jim Godfrey, it seems, has offered him a job.

Everybody who meets Jim Godfrey, it seems, has offered him a job.

The newly-appointed senior press officer at Labour's Millbank HQ is popular and, for a 27-year-old with just a four-year employment history, very well-connected.

Godfrey's career began before his university studies ended. A month before graduating from York university - a brief tryst with journalism saw him write a weekly column for the student newspaper - Godfrey landed his first job. A chance meeting with an executive from research firm Opinion Leader Research led him to join them for the summer. A few weeks later, a fluke encounter with Labour's then spokesman on the public services, Derek Foster, ended with the offer of a post as Foster's shadow special adviser.

The following year, Godfrey indulged his triple obsessions - politics, media relations and music. In politics, Godfrey lived and breathed the daily intrigue of Westminster life. The media relations and music were an extension of early attempts as a Colchester schoolboy to gain coverage in the local press of his rock band, the Moonspoons. His first coup was seeing the band described by the local Evening Gazette as 'on the cusp of making a noise on the Colchester music scene'.

Godfrey's love of music has now been put on hold. His weekly jazz evenings at Balham's Bedford pub have, sadly, come to an end. Likewise his tenure as keyboard player with lobbyists turned low-grade pop outfit EDM (short for Early Day Motion, the parliamentary device for bringing issues to the public's attention).

Godfrey stayed with Foster until the 1997 election, when he was sent to Millbank to work on the campaign. While there is no proven link between his work there and the party securing the largest parliamentary majority in almost 200 years, former colleagues rate him highly.

'Some PR people bully to get messages across. Some come across like your best mate, but hint that they have some powerful friends in case you write the wrong thing. Then you have the nice bloke approach, which is Jim's style,' says Matthew Taylor, director of the Institute for Public Policy Research and Labour's head of policy until May 1997. Taylor brought Godfrey into the IPPR, where he has been head of press for the last two years.

It's likely Godfrey would have joined Taylor sooner but after the massive election victory, he was offered a role at OLR that led him to learn skills at the heart of New Labour - running focus groups.

His new Labour skill set only partially formed, Godfrey made the move to the IPPR where he learnt much more of the media relations trade. 'When I started, the IPPR was sending out hundreds of press releases but getting very little coverage. Matthew (Taylor) and I decided it needed a more political, more campaigning focus, with greater emphasis on the top-level of the organisation. We decided instead to cultivate a group of serious newspaper journalists who were interested in the work we were doing,' says Godfrey.

He is credited with transforming the IPPR from a staid and dry academic body to one of the country's leading left-wing campaigning bodies. Commentators agree Godfrey's work at the IPPR boosted his stock among the new Labour elite. 'He is a future Downing Street special adviser, no doubt about it,' is how one source puts it.

His ability to get results will come in handy if that is his goal, but he remains tight-lipped about future plans. 'I don't want to talk about what happens after the election. We have a good team in place at Millbank and are focused on ensuring Labour gets in again,' he says.

There are other things Godfrey says he doesn't want to talk about. His natural blokiness seems constrained by the demands of New Labour line-toeing. While his keenness for New Labour's project comes across as earnest and well-intentioned, you get the feeling he is at his best gossiping over a beer rather than flogging a policy relaunch to uninterested hacks.

One effect of his appointment may be to change the culture of the Labour press office. The 'siege mentality', as one Labour veteran describes it, has led to talented Labour press officers such as Steve Bates and Matt Doyle earning reputations for being abrupt and hostile.

'There are spin doctors and spin doctors and Jim is the benign variety.

He'll rise above the Millbank attitude,' says Anna Coote, director of public health at the King's Fund, formerly at the IPPR. 'He has natural charm and confidence so you don't feel you are bullied, but he always gets the headlines.'

Godfrey speaks of his respect for Labour PR guru David Hill, now heading Bell Pottinger's Keith MacDowall Associates. The greatest compliment paid to Godfrey is that he has the ability to be as good as his mentor. It would be no surprise if, shortly after the election, Hill offered Godfrey a plum job. Everyone else seems to.



HIGHLIGHTS

1996 Researcher to Derek Foster MP

1997 Press officer, Millbank

1998 Head of press, IPPR

2000 Senior press officer, Labour Party.



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