As we enter the final weeks of the Blair era, many of its key behind-the-scenes players are dusting down their CVs and thinking through their options.
Barring a surprise late runner, Gordon Brown is expected to take over as Prime Minister, and it is a fair bet that anyone seen as close to Tony Blair will struggle to survive in the new regime.
As one seasoned insider puts it: ‘There’s a degree of bitterness between those two camps which, in 20 years, I can’t remember having seen before. In those circumstances, the people coming into power are not going to be very forgiving. If you are someone who has been a loyal Blairite and has done the business against the Chancellor on a regular basis – then you’re going to find life difficult.’
Many of Blair’s special advisers are likely to replicate the moves of some of their erstwhile colleagues by making the leap into public affairs consultancy.
Back in 1998, Tim Allan left the Prime Minister’s press office to become director of corporate communications at BSkyB and he now heads up Portland PR.
In 2001, Anji Hunter famously left Downing Street to take up BP’s director of comms role. More recently, key Blairites to jump ship include Darren Murphy, now head of government relations and external affairs at AstraZeneca and Jim Godfrey, now head of corporate affairs at ITV.
Who’s up for the job?
So which Blairites can reasonably expect public affairs agencies and large companies to form an orderly queue for their signature?
David Hill replaced Alastair Campbell as Blair’s director of comms in 2003 and is certain to leave when Blair does.
‘He wasn’t in the Blair camp until he arrived there, but now he has to follow his paymaster,’ says one insider.
Hill (l), a former director at Good Relations, will almost certainly be targeted by the large corporates for a top comms role.
But the Blair aide most courted by the business world is Geoffrey Norris, the PM’s special adviser on trade and industry. Norris was one of the first people Blair appointed to his inner circle on becoming leader of the opposition and is said to be extremely influential. ‘He’s been the link between government and business for the last ten years,’ says an insider. ‘He’s going to be greatly in demand by everyone.’
Outside of Downing Street, sources point to the special advisers to Blairite cabinet ministers such as Tessa Jowell, Hazel Blears and John Prescott.
Nigel Warner, special adviser to Jowell, will be a key target for public affairs agencies, having previously worked for Lexington Public Affairs.
According to one PA source: ‘Warner is a bright guy, well connected and he has worked in agencies as well as doing a stint as a special adviser in a department with lots of interesting issues.’
Hazel Blears’ special adviser Paul Richards is also tipped for a top comms job. One senior lobbyist who has worked with Richards says: ‘His personal background was local government communications so it’s quite possible that he will end up as director of comms for something like The New Local Government Network or the Local Government Association or a large local authority.’
Other special advisers who could be targeted by business and public affairs agencies include Nick Bent, another Jowell aide; Mick Halloran, one of Prescott’s key advisors; and Sarah Schaefer, an adviser to David Miliband.
But will Blairites actually be any use to PA firms once Brown takes over? There is little doubt that a lot of companies will be interested, but will public affairs agencies also benefit from people so closely linked to the old regime?
Peter Bingle, chair of Bell Pottinger Public Affairs, is not convinced that Blairities can bring much to the table.
‘I’m not sure why anybody in public affairs would want to appoint a Blairite,’ he says. ‘I can’t see what the rationale is for the public affairs industry employing people whose time has gone.
‘The challenge for the public affairs industry is to understand how a Brown government works, as opposed to a Blair government.’
Conservatives ‘in demand’
Bingle adds that allies of Brown and Conservative leader David Cameron are far more sought after by public affairs consultancies. Others agree that, with the possibility of a hung Parliament after the next general election, it is Conservatives who are in demand.
‘That’s my impression,’ says Martin Le Jeune, founding director of Open Road. ‘Especially in terms of agencies that are strongly identified with New Labour – they may need to redress the balance by getting people from the right of the political spectrum.’
But while Brownites and Cameroons are clearly at a premium in the present political climate, Nick Williams, director at Fleishman-Hillard, insists Blairites still have a lot to offer – even under a Brown premiership.
He says: ‘The reality is that anyone who held a senior position in Blair’s Downing Street will bring first hand experience of how government works at the highest level.
‘At the end of the day public affairs consultancies want people who both understand the system and who understand high level political situations. Therefore, anyone who has senior experience of this type of problem solving in politics, in the media and in the spotlight will attract interest.’
Who’s who in the Prime Minister’s Office
- Jonathan Powell, chief of staff with direct responsibility for leading and co-ordinating operations across Number 10. He reports to the Prime Minister;
- Liz Lloyd, deputy chief of staff;
- David Hill, the Prime Minister’s director of communications;
- Jo Gibbons, director of events, visits and scheduling;
- John McTernan, director of political operations. He provides political management and support for the development of political strategy. The Labour Party pays his salary;
- David Bennett, head of policy directorate;
- Oliver Robbins, the principal private secretary to the Prime Minister;
- Ruth Turner, director of government relations.