Media Profile: Putting politics in perspective - Howell James, Brown Lloyd James/The man who stayed with Major till the end is now setting up his own agency

Howell James, former political adviser to John Major and now co-founder of his own PR firm, has just returned from a two-month trek through South America. ’I did all those things I should have done when I was wearing Lennon glasses and a caftan,’ he says.

Howell James, former political adviser to John Major and now

co-founder of his own PR firm, has just returned from a two-month trek

through South America. ’I did all those things I should have done when I

was wearing Lennon glasses and a caftan,’ he says.



In the intervening years James’ career has encompassed some of the most

exciting jobs in communications. He has gathered a formidable group of

friends and contacts.However, despite the lofty circles in which he moves,

James has the unpretentious manner of a very normal man. He cuts a

conservative figure in the refurbished Belgravia office from which he and

two partners (Sir Nicholas Lloyd, former editor of the Daily Express and

Peter Brown, Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s US-based publicist) are establishing

their strategic consultancy Brown Lloyd James.



James’ career began in 1976 at Capital Radio, where he threw his

considerable energy into organising outside broadcasts from events like

the Best Disco in Town, where the station’s DJs played to audiences of

2,500 ’disco-mad youths’ at London’s Lyceum .



In 1982 he was recruited as head of publicity to launch TV-am. The channel

was set up in opposition to BBC 1’s Breakfast Time, and James describes

the experience as ’a great blooding’.



The station was in financial crisis almost from day one and chief

executives followed each other in quick succession. ’I became a kind of

corporate memory because there were so many changes.’



In the summer of 1985 Lord Young, then Minister without Portfolio, asked

James to join him as his political adviser. He stayed with him during his

tenures as Secretary of State for Employment and Secretary of State for

Industry.



Then in 1987 his father died. ’It was quite a year. I loved what I was

doing but I felt I wanted to get back into an executive job. As an adviser

in Whitehall you don’t have much resource, you are there to assist your

minister. The civil servants are the real doers,’ he explains.



So he joined Marmaduke Hussey and a new management team at the BBC as

corporate affairs director. At 33, James was the youngest ever director at

the BBC, and his role was one of the most challenging: to defend the

corporation to the Government and its audiences in the face of the charter

renewal debate.



He did not always agree with the way in which reform at the corporation

was introduced, although he believes it produced the necessary

savings.



’I think certain management practices may have been questionable.’



After what he now admits was too brief a stint with Cable and Wireless as

corporate and government affairs director, James returned to the fray at

Westminster.



’John Major seduced me away just two years later. Those opportunities come

your way once in your life. It was a ringside seat in the heart of

Government. You are at the centre of every single debate and

decision.’



However, his was not the most enviable job in politics: he joined Major

just before John Redwood’s 1995 Tory leadership challenge and stayed with

the embattled Prime Minister until his resignation this summer.



He handled links with the Conservatives, wrote speeches and is credited

with improving Major’s Parliamentary performances, particularly during

Prime Minister’s question time. He describes his role as that of an

’orchestrator’.



He stayed with the former Prime Minister until Hague’s election as

leader.



Although Major’s transition was reported as smooth and dignified, James

says the process was more painful than it appeared. ’Handover of power

is difficult on individuals and difficult on families.’



Although his work has put him in touch with many high profile figures,

James has never sought the public eye. Through his home life he keeps

his feet firmly on the ground. ’I’ve got friends who regard all of this

as madness. It’s important to listen to them, or you might end up

believing all the nonsense that goes on around you.’





HIGHLIGHTS

1987 - Head of corporate affairs, BBC

1992 - Director of corporate and government affairs, Cable and Wireless

1994 - Political adviser to John Major

1997 - Founding partner in Brown Lloyd James



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