Profile: Michael Burrell, APPC - Calm after the APPC storm/Michael Burrell brings a sense of calm and unity to the head of the APPC

Michael Burrell, who has just emerged victorious from a tooth-and-nail fight for the chair of the APPC against founding chairman Andrew Gifford, hates conflict. ’I would have preferred not to be elected as chairman at a point when emotions were running so high,’ he admits somewhat reluctantly. Former colleagues go further, describing Burrell as a man who will do anything to avoid confrontation.

Michael Burrell, who has just emerged victorious from a

tooth-and-nail fight for the chair of the APPC against founding chairman

Andrew Gifford, hates conflict. ’I would have preferred not to be

elected as chairman at a point when emotions were running so high,’ he

admits somewhat reluctantly. Former colleagues go further, describing

Burrell as a man who will do anything to avoid confrontation.



Six of the 13 members of the association present at last month’s fraught

annual general meeting voted against him, and Burrell knows he is going

to have to build bridges fast if he wants to keep the APPC together, let

alone achieve the aims he has for the year ahead.



As well as managing his own lobbying firm, Westminster Strategy, Burrell

plans to cram in meetings with all APPC member agencies in the next few

days in a ’listening’ exercise reminiscent of William Hague’s desperate

attempt to rescind the Conservative Party when he took over two years

ago.



’People who know me well would say I am good at forging agreement out of

disharmony. I love helping clients bridge their differences,’ he

says.



Hague would do well to take a leaf out of Burrell’s book.



The ability to see both sides of an argument which comes with Burrell’s

innate peace-making skills stems from his ten years as a lobby

correspondent - something he says he loved and would not have given up

had he not been made redundant during the early-1980s recession.



’He comes at politics with the hat of a political journalist - with

objectivity and independence. He’s absolutely brilliant at tackling

issues where politics and the media clash,’ says Fishburn Hedges public

affairs director Graham MacMillan, one of the many lobbyists to have

passed through the Burrell school at WS.



This media experience will no doubt help Burrell raise the profile of

the lobbying industry in the public eye - in the five years since it was

set up, the APPC has only ever been in the limelight for negative

reasons: Cash For Questions and Drapergate.



’It’s very important we don’t contemplate our navels,’ he says. ’One of

the things the APPC needs to do is explain to the media just what it is

we do, why it’s central to democracy and why we’re proud of what we do,’

he adds with feeling.



Unlike many of his peers, Burrell is not a primadonna - he has let the

bigger personalities pass through WS. He is quiet and retiring,

preferring to give those under him the chance to take the limelight.



Burrell seems to come into his own when he is lapping up the sunshine in

Sydney or St Tropez, far away from lobbying, a job he says he finds

stressful. He has a house on the Cote d’Azur which he bought with the

money he made when he sold his stake in WS to Lopex.



He also spends three weeks every January in Sydney - his partner is

Australian and his accent has a slight antipodean twang. ’I can’t bear

darkness.



It’s magical going to Australia at that time of year. It’s like going

from a black-and-white picture to colour. I know I’m a nicer person to

be with over there,’ he enthuses.



While Burrell’s WS co-founders Rosemary Grogan and Kevin Bell left long

ago to set up rivals to WS, he has soldiered on behind the scenes. The

result is an agency which has not only acted as a training college for

many of the industry’s rising stars, but in many ways set the model for

the media and Government relations mix which is now so in vogue in

public affairs.



Burrell’s brand of lobbying is not based on access or contacts. Although

he stood as an SDP-Liberal Alliance candidate in the 1983 general

election, he is not a political networker in the way the New Labour

lobbyists are.



Instead, he relies more on strategy to ply his trade, and in this sense

he will be the perfect figurehead for what has to be a whiter-than-white

organisation in the grey world of lobbying.



HIGHLIGHTS

1973

Lobby correspondent, Westminster Press

1983

Managing director, Profile Political Relations

1986

Managing director, Westminster Strategy

1999

Chairman, Association of Professional Political Consultants



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