Michael Burrell, who has just emerged victorious from a
tooth-and-nail fight for the chair of the APPC against founding chairman
Andrew Gifford, hates conflict. ’I would have preferred not to be
elected as chairman at a point when emotions were running so high,’ he
admits somewhat reluctantly. Former colleagues go further, describing
Burrell as a man who will do anything to avoid confrontation.
Six of the 13 members of the association present at last month’s fraught
annual general meeting voted against him, and Burrell knows he is going
to have to build bridges fast if he wants to keep the APPC together, let
alone achieve the aims he has for the year ahead.
As well as managing his own lobbying firm, Westminster Strategy, Burrell
plans to cram in meetings with all APPC member agencies in the next few
days in a ’listening’ exercise reminiscent of William Hague’s desperate
attempt to rescind the Conservative Party when he took over two years
’People who know me well would say I am good at forging agreement out of
disharmony. I love helping clients bridge their differences,’ he
Hague would do well to take a leaf out of Burrell’s book.
The ability to see both sides of an argument which comes with Burrell’s
innate peace-making skills stems from his ten years as a lobby
correspondent - something he says he loved and would not have given up
had he not been made redundant during the early-1980s recession.
’He comes at politics with the hat of a political journalist - with
objectivity and independence. He’s absolutely brilliant at tackling
issues where politics and the media clash,’ says Fishburn Hedges public
affairs director Graham MacMillan, one of the many lobbyists to have
passed through the Burrell school at WS.
This media experience will no doubt help Burrell raise the profile of
the lobbying industry in the public eye - in the five years since it was
set up, the APPC has only ever been in the limelight for negative
reasons: Cash For Questions and Drapergate.
’It’s very important we don’t contemplate our navels,’ he says. ’One of
the things the APPC needs to do is explain to the media just what it is
we do, why it’s central to democracy and why we’re proud of what we do,’
he adds with feeling.
Unlike many of his peers, Burrell is not a primadonna - he has let the
bigger personalities pass through WS. He is quiet and retiring,
preferring to give those under him the chance to take the limelight.
Burrell seems to come into his own when he is lapping up the sunshine in
Sydney or St Tropez, far away from lobbying, a job he says he finds
stressful. He has a house on the Cote d’Azur which he bought with the
money he made when he sold his stake in WS to Lopex.
He also spends three weeks every January in Sydney - his partner is
Australian and his accent has a slight antipodean twang. ’I can’t bear
It’s magical going to Australia at that time of year. It’s like going
from a black-and-white picture to colour. I know I’m a nicer person to
be with over there,’ he enthuses.
While Burrell’s WS co-founders Rosemary Grogan and Kevin Bell left long
ago to set up rivals to WS, he has soldiered on behind the scenes. The
result is an agency which has not only acted as a training college for
many of the industry’s rising stars, but in many ways set the model for
the media and Government relations mix which is now so in vogue in
Burrell’s brand of lobbying is not based on access or contacts. Although
he stood as an SDP-Liberal Alliance candidate in the 1983 general
election, he is not a political networker in the way the New Labour
Instead, he relies more on strategy to ply his trade, and in this sense
he will be the perfect figurehead for what has to be a whiter-than-white
organisation in the grey world of lobbying.
Lobby correspondent, Westminster Press
Managing director, Profile Political Relations
Managing director, Westminster Strategy
Chairman, Association of Professional Political Consultants