Profile: Dan Hodges, Freedom To Fly

Dan Hodges' aggressive approach will gain coverage for Freedom to Fly.

Profile: Dan Hodges, Freedom To Fly

Former GMB communications director Dan Hodges is certainly no slouch.

Within days of claiming his latest job - as PR chief for pro-airport expansion coalition Freedom to Fly - he had already helped to secure media coverage for his new employer with a characteristically aggressive, but also rather brazen, dimension.

Hodges admits he played a part in alerting the Sunday Express to the number of flights Jamie Oliver, who has protested against plans to expand Stansted, had taken in the past year (24), which led to an article accusing the celebrity chef of being a hypocrite - a charge his spokesman last week denied.

Hodges, who has formerly held roles as head of press for the Road Haulage Association and spent five years as a researcher in the House of Commons, has a career history of being near the heart of political debate.

He wants to bring a 'more confident' approach to Freedom to Fly's PR - but is quick to re-assure the Naked Chef: 'There's no point personalising the campaign - that would be daft. Jamie Oliver is very popular.'

Freedom to Fly - backed by airlines, business organisations and trade unions, and headed by Labour peer Baroness Dean - launched in January last year to campaign for an expansion in Britain's airports.

The latest Department for Transport consultation document on the issue was expected this week and the publication of the long-awaited White Paper on the future of air travel in the UK is expected around November. Hodges stresses, though, that the debate is unlikely to end at that juncture.

Hodges, who replaced Joe Irvin, heading what he describes as 'a small team with huge resources,' says: 'Our opponents like to characterise the campaign as principled campaigners locked into a battle with corporate barons in the aviation field. It's not as simple as that.'

For Hodges, who hails from solid socialist stock - his mother is Hampstead and Highgate MP Glenda Jackson - the arguments are more than economic, too. He talks of the 'regressive social consequences' - such as increased unemployment - that, Freedom to Fly argues, will occur if airports are prevented from expanding.

He adds: 'The Unions in the coalition are concerned that an increase in air fares will price people out of the market. It would become like the 1950s with air travel the preserve of a rich elite.'

Campaigning for the workers was, of course, fundamental to Hodges' previous job at the GMB. When, earlier this month, the Government struck a deal to end the 'two-tier' workforce in local government, it was a triumph for a campaign that Hodges describes as the most rewarding he has worked on.

At the GMB he ran a three-strong team, working with Steve Pryle and Emily Thomas - the latter has taken over from him as acting comms director.

Hodges remembers an occasion when Pryle - 'Anything you need for a campaign, Steve'll deliver' - secured the services of an emu, which was taken to the Bank of England to publicise a campaign on European economic and monetary union (EMU).

He paints a lively picture of life at the GMB, saying that when Thomas joined around a year ago 'she must have thought she'd entered a lunatic asylum, with all the stunts'.

In his previous job at the Road Haulage Association, Hodges also indulged in what he describes as 'some shamelessly populist' campaigns, helping to win compensation for British hauliers caught up in French blockades.

He remembers parking a truck emblazoned with the slogan 'Ou est les monnaies?' - ('yes, we had to use dubious grammar') - outside London's French Embassy.

His PR skills and passion for transport issues clearly stem from his mother, who lives in a flat above Hodges and his fiancee, in south London. Indeed, he was given his professional grounding in media relations working for his mum ('straight-forward nepotism', he jokes) from the 1992 general election campaign until Labour's 1997 election victory.

Hodges, a keen supporter of Liverpool football club, is no political geek, saying he doesn't spend much leisure time on political activism - he gets enough at work and too much, he says, would drive him mad.

One national newspaper political editor describes him as follows: 'He'll put Freedom to Fly on the map. He's the most proactive press officer in the business - he can get a front page story out of anything.'

The 'millions of working-class people who have had the privilege of cheap travel' - which Freedom to Fly believes will be curtailed should airport growth be stymied - may well owe a future debt to media-savvy Hodges' campaigning nous.


1992: Researcher, Glenda Jackson, MP

1997: Head of press, Road Haulage Assoc

2000: Comms director, GMB

2003: Director, Freedom to Fly

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