PROFILE: Tom McNally, Shandwick Consultants; Following a noble cause

Tom McNally heads to the Lords, all set to scotch popular PR myths

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

fledgling SDP.

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

his own.


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

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