Tom McNally heads to the Lords, all set to scotch popular PR myths
For Tom McNally, public affairs director at Shandwick Consultants and
former Labour MP, a seat in the House of Lords as one of two new Liberal
Democrat peers is a chance to take care of some ‘unfinished business’.
Since losing his seat as MP for Stockport South in the 1983 General
Election, McNally has forged a second career for himself as a successful
lobbyist, doubling the size of Shandwick’s public affairs business in
the last couple of years. But he remains, as one friend puts it, ‘a
political animal to his fingertips’.
McNally’s ennoblement is the result of his work as special adviser to
Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown. ‘Tom has a huge repository of
common sense and he’s someone to whom the party leadership turns a lot,’
says Boots Healthcare International head of PR and fellow Lib Dem
activist Ian Wright.Ashdown himself says of McNally: ‘He’s a man of
absolute integrity, sharp judgement and an uncompromising and sometimes
uncomfortable dedication to the truth.’
Such qualities are just what the upper house needs. But there have been
rumblings of disquiet about a possible conflict between McNally’s new
role and his job as director of a public affairs firm.
‘It’s not my intention to use the Lords as a platform for Shandwick,’ he
says. But he does intend to scotch any misconceptions about lobbying.
‘Over the past year or two, the PR industry has been slow to defend
itself,’ he says. ‘Sleaze, public affairs, lobbying and PR have all been
put in the same pot as something undesirable, to be controlled and
‘I’m going to the Lords with my head held high as a member of an
industry that has a lot to be proud of.’
After leaving University College London, where in 1965 he was president
of the Union, he joined the Labour Party as a research assistant in the
international department. Three years later he reported from Nigeria on
the Biafran war for Labour’s National Executive Committee and soon after
was appointed International Secretary of the Labour Party. At 26, he was
the youngest senior official in the party since Denis Healey had held
the post in 1946.
He became political adviser to Foreign Secretary Jim Callaghan when
Labour regained power in 1974 and was part of the team sent to the
Cyprus peace talks, where he met a young diplomat by the name of Paddy
When Callaghan assumed the premiership in 1976, McNally became his
political secretary and head of Downing Street’s political office. In
1979 McNally was elected to the Commons but became disillusioned as the
party lurched leftwards. So in 1981 he jumped ship and joined the
While he applauds many of New Labour’ reforms, McNally argues that the
Lib Dems have more substance and crusading spirit. But he has proved
himself capable of stifling his own crusading tendencies to serve his
‘I remember getting an eloquent, forceful talking to from Tom,
explaining that if anyone could point to him suppressing his
professional judgements as a PR man to put forward a political point of
view, his career would be over,’ says Wessex Water chairman Nick Hood,
with whom McNally worked on privatisation issues.
McNally will be unusual in the Lords, not only does he not have grey
hair, he also has a month-old baby daughter.
Hectic family life should help McNally keep his feet on the ground. But
even a baby daughter is unlikely to quell a fanatical devotion to his
flagging home football team, Blackpool Town.
For most of his 52 years, McNally has held a torch for his home town.
Blackpool has stamped itself on his identity as firmly as on those
stacks of pink Blackpool rock. His political colours however, are all
1967 Research assistant, the Labour Party
1974 Political adviser to Jim Callaghan
1979 Labour MP for Stockport South
1983 Parliamentary consultant to GEC
1985 Director general, The Retail Consortium
1987 Public affairs director, Hill & Knowlton
1993 Public affairs director, Shandwick Consultants