Images from the night the Tories lost the 1997 general election
still linger: Goldsmith taunting Mellor; Blair triumphant at the
Festival Hall; and for many the defining moment of the night, the defeat
of Michael Portillo.
Dr Ian Twinn, the new director of public affairs at the Incorporated
Society of British Advertisers (ISBA) has better reason than many to
remember Portillo’s humbling. He was Conservative MP for the
neighbouring seat of Edmonton, and his own political demise took place
the same night, at the same count. It had always looked likely. Twinn’s
majority in Edmonton was just 500. He was buried by an avalanche that
gave the new Labour MP an 18,000 majority.
It was an emphatic end to his 14 years as an MP for the marginal seat,
and one that has, in the short-term at least, necessitated a career
change for the 48-year-old. Now he is putting his political skills to
use for the country’s advertisers. His new role will allow him to
exploit his parliamentary contacts and lobbying skills on behalf of ISBA
and its members.
It is a wide-ranging job spec, requiring an equal ability at schmoozing
and mastering large volumes of paperwork, plus an insider’s
understanding of how the process of government actually works.
But is Twinn, a man who occupied the back benches for his entire
Westminster career, the sort of political animal needed to protect the
interests of British advertisers against the encroaching red tape of
In the flesh, he is personable and emollient, with just a whiff of the
professional politician’s theatricality. When you consider that he
joined the Commons in the same intake as a certain Tony Blair, it’s fair
to say his career was less than meteoric.
However, not even the Commons is full of generals; just like in any
organisation, you need plenty of poor bloody infantry. Besides, Twinn
had a time-consuming highly-marginal constituency to nurse.
His party workers retain fond memories. Audrey Stacey, vice-chairman of
Edmonton Conservative Association, describes Twinn as: ’An extremely
good constituency MP, always available to help out, and always working
hard. I can’t fault him - he did everything we asked of him.’ She adds
that he’s a tough-minded Euro-sceptic who speaks his mind.
Lobbying will be the main part of his new job, whispering in the ears of
MPs and civil servants in London, and MEPs and Eurocrats in Brussels and
Strasbourg. Twinn will concentrate on two sets of issues.
The first are things the ISBA wants to change. The main ones are the low
knowledge levels most legislators have of the importance of advertising
to UK plc, and the future of TV, especially in the light of the renewal
of the BBC’s charter in 2002.
The second are areas where ISBA wants to fight its corner for its 320
members. Advertising to children looks set to come under pressure from
the Swedish presidency of the EU in 2001. Our Nordic friends view the
targeting of ads at kids under 12 as immoral, and they want to prevent
child actors appearing. ’The industry as a whole has got to be aware of
things coming out of Brussels,’ cautions Twinn.
The battle over tobacco advertising is largely lost, but ISBA is ready
to fight for freedom in alcohol ads . The French ban on drinks
advertising is a thinly-disguised protectionist measure for its wine
industry, but ISBA wants to blast this open for UK advertisers.
Twinn says he is still investigating many of the issues that threaten
the freedom of advertisers, but is adamant that a light regulatory touch
is what’s needed: ’There’s always a temptation for politicians to
regulate,’ says Twinn, ’but my instinct is to allow people to regulate
Twinn still retains political ambitions. He turns up at local events,
and the word is he has his sights on Portillo’s old seat.
Ironically for someone currently fighting back the Eurocrats, he is also
number five on the Tory list of prospective London MEPs for the 1999
However the Tories would have to get 50% of the London vote for him to
go to Brussels. So the chances are he’ll be at the ISBA for a while
ISBA director-general John Hooper believes Twinn will help protect the
freedom of British advertisers.
’The decision I took was that ISBA and its members needed someone who
would get us through doors and on to a higher plane. I am a simple
marketing guy, not a lobby insider.’
Town planning lecturer, South Bank Polytechnic
Conservative MP, Edmonton
Parliamentary private secretary Peter Morrison, DTI, Energy
PPS David Trippier, Environment
PPS Sir John Cope, Treasury
Director of public affairs, Incorporated Society of British Advertisers.
This article was first published on Marketing