Profile: Richard Holme, chairman Liberal Democrat election campaign - Lining up for poll position/Richard Holmes’ pedigree makes him an electoral force to be reckoned with

Richard Holme admits to a sense of ’loss’ at failing in his five attempts (spread over 23 years) at winning election as a Liberal MP. But not securing a seat in the Commons has done nothing to prevent him from becoming one of the most influential of the party’s hierachy.

Richard Holme admits to a sense of ’loss’ at failing in his five

attempts (spread over 23 years) at winning election as a Liberal MP. But

not securing a seat in the Commons has done nothing to prevent him from

becoming one of the most influential of the party’s hierachy.



Created a life peer in 1991, Holme was Liberal Democrat director of

policy for the 1992 election campaign. He was a trusted adviser to David

Steel during his time as party leader and today fulfils the same role

for Paddy Ashdown.



He juggles a heavyweight job at mining conglomerate RTZ with the role of

Lib Dem parliamentary spokesman on Northern Ireland and - crucially as

polling day nears - chairmanship of the party’s election campaign.



In order to accommodate his busy schedule he is a notoriously early

riser, conducting meetings at times when other businessmen are still in

bed.



True to form, my meeting with Holme takes place at 8am in his office at

RTZ’s St James’s headquarters. Looking fit and younger than his 60 years

after an early morning swim, he outlines his approach to impending

hustings.



’The basis on which we’ll fight the election is that we’ll make a

difference.



I’m quite critical of Labour in that they’ve gone in for synchronised

swimming with the Conservatives. I want the whole campaign to be

strategy-led so you can bring together the leadership, policies and

approach of the party so it’s indivisible - cut from one cloth.’



Holme can be tremendously charming, but at the same time has the

intellect and strength of will to prosper in the bearpit of British

politics. A word often used to describe him is Machiavellian.



’He’s got very talented at maintaining the ear of the leadership,

whoever’s in,’ says one Lib Dem. ’He’s a political warfare specialist,’

says another.



’He’s highly intelligent and doesn’t suffer fools gladly, which means

he’s not as popular with some people as he might be,’ adds Steel. ’He

has made his share of enemies over time but I regard that to his

credit.’



Those enemies have been quick to level charges at Holme. There have been

some rumblings of disquiet in the party over his prominent role at one

of the UK’s top plcs, which operates in the controversial business of

mining to boot. Some also blame him for convincing the party leadership

to concentrate too heavily (and arguably to its own disadvantage) on the

possibility of a hung parliament in the last election run-in.



One long-serving party activist also feels that Holme has ’cosied up’

too much to the Labour party and has made himself ’unanswerable’ to all

but a few Lib Dem grandees. ’Only a Conservative victory can stop

Richard being a powerful player in the land,’ says one Lib

Dem-supporting communications expert.



In the 1950s, before Oxford and a stintas a management trainee at

Unilever, Holme served as an officer with the Gurkha Rifles during the

Malayan Emergency - a military background which gives him a bond with

Ashdown.



After forging a successful career for himself in publishing, both here

and in the US (where he was active in Democratic party circles), he set

up strategic consultancy PRIMA Europe in 1987, where he advised the

likes of Unilever, Glaxo and RTZ. When two years ago RTZ offered him a

job with a wide-ranging management and communications brief, he leapt at

the chance to return to corporate corridors.



He is a respected campaigner and this, with his ease at the heart of

large organisations, made him Ashdown’s natural choice to head a

campaign involving 500 people with an estimated budget of #2.5

million.



When asked, Holme lists self-discipline among his own qualities. ’Once

you are clear what the message is, don’t be deflected,’ he says.



Clearly this is of extreme importance for a party which doesn’t have the

large advertising budgets of its two bigger rivals.



Holme was a prime architect of the Liberal-SDP alliance and has been at

the heart of party policy for over two decades. No one expects his

influence to diminish for some time to come. He is, after all, an

energetic, modern Machiavelli.



HIGHLIGHTS

1959

Management trainee, Unilever

1965

Marketing director, Penguin Books

1969

President, CRM Inc, California

1974

Chairman, New Perspectives Publishing

1987

Chairman, Prima Europe

1995

Director external affairs and human resources, RTZ



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