Public Affairs: The scramble for Tory PPCs

Warning over sudden recruitment of Conservative candidates.

Certain agency bosses are concerned about the growing number of Conservative Party general election candidates suddenly entering the public affairs industry.

Mandate Communications CEO Sacha Deshmukh and Bell Pottinger Public Affairs chairman Peter Bingle were reacting to last week's news that Fleishman-Hillard has become the latest consultancy to sign up a Tory prospective parliamentary candidate (PPC), with the hire of Chris Heaton-Harris.

With many public affairs agencies and in-house teams keen to attract Tories, even more PPCs are expected to enter the industry - especially as top staffers at Conservative Central Office fix their gaze on jobs at Downing Street.

But Deshmukh urged caution: 'My view is that the key to hiring is quality. I think companies actively seeking out PPCs are clearly panicking. It is a sign that those companies are pretty much devoid of any real knowledge of how to speak to Conservatives and are desperate to cover that up.'

He added: 'Just being a PPC doesn't make you a good client adviser. Our team's expertise and contacts with the Conservatives have been built up over many years. Unlike some rivals, we have no need to hire PPCs just to provide a fig leaf.'

Bingle was similarly sceptical, saying: 'I understand why it is happening, but it doesn't really work. Public affairs is about long-term relationships, and often they are only there for the short-term.'

Heaton-Harris has been selected to fight the safe Tory seat of Daventry. Also this year, Portland has hired two Tory parliamentary candidates - George Eustice and Charlotte Leslie. Other Tory PPCs in the lobbying industry include Priti Patel, consultant at Weber Shandwick, and Tracey Crouch, head of public affairs at Aviva.

F-H head of public affairs Nick Williams said hiring a PPC made sense because the run-up to the next election was such a crucial period for the industry. 'Heaton-Harris brings with him considerable experience of the Conservative Party when we are seeing the greatest change in British politics for 12 years,' he said.

Portland partner Steve Morris said 'every PR agency in London' would want to employ Eustice, a former press secretary to David Cameron.

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