PR Uncovered: Bell Pottinger’s links to government

Lord Bell is chairman of Bell Pottinger’s parent company.

‘The most powerful public affairs business in the country’ is how senior executive David Wilson describes Bell Pottinger Public Affairs (BPPA). Many believe the key to that power is the company’s links with the Conservative Party.

It’s no coincidence that when the Conservative Party held its controversial auction of internships in February, a week’s work experience at Bell Pottinger was one of the lots on offer.

Bell Pottinger regularly sponsors Tory events, such as the Conservative Future reception in June, where BPPA managing director Tim Collins spoke alongside David Cameron, the Party’s co-chairman Lord Feldman and vice-chairman Andrew Stephenson.

And research by the Bureau has shown that the firm donated almost £12,000 to the Tories in the year to September 2011.

A link to Thatcher
As a former adviser to Margaret Thatcher, Lord Bell, chairman of Bell Pottinger’s parent company Chime Communications, is still a powerful presence in the Conservative Party.

He has several extremely well-connected lieutenants. These include Collins, a former Tory party communications director and  BPPA chairman Peter Bingle.

A former speechwriter for Margaret Thatcher, Collins was described to Bureau journalists as a man who ‘knows everyone from top to bottom of the Party’.

He has known David Cameron, the Conservative’s director of strategy Steve Hilton, and chancellor George Osborne for more than 20 years, having worked alongside Cameron in the Conservative Research Department, with both Hilton and Cameron’s chief of staff Ed Llewellyn, serving as deputies.

As a shadow cabinet member under Michael Howard and Iain Duncan Smith, Collins also served alongside many Conservative members of the current government.

A Party pedigree
Peter Bingle has an equally lengthy Party pedigree. He was a Conservative councillor in the 1980s and has 26 years’ experience in public affairs.

He has been at the forefront of recent attempts to woo the Liberal Democrats, attending BPPA-sponsored events such as the launch of the Liberal Democrat Forum Network in March 2011 and the Lib Dem researchers’ and special advisers’ 2010 summer reception. But his connections with the Conservatives remain strong.

Other senior BPPA staffers with strong links to the Tories include Michael McManus, who was a deputy to David Cameron in the Conservative Research Department in 1990-2 and went on to serve as a special adviser in three government departments. More recently he worked closely alongside Tory peer Lord Hunt.

Jonathan Oates is the perfect example of the ‘revolving door’ between politics and lobbying. He moved from Bell Pottinger’s public affairs arm to work for the Liberal Democrats and back again twice.

Jonathan Lehrle, who works for sister company Bell Pottinger Sans Frontières but provides consultancy to BPPA, spent five years as chief of staff to Michael Ancram (now Lord Lothian) when he was shadow foreign secretary.

Bell Pottinger’s Liberal Democrat contingent includes Stephen Lotinga, a former policy chief for the party.

Recent hires include Daniel Hamilton, a former Conservative councillor, Paul Scaping, a former parliamentary researcher to Vince Cable and Claire Jakobsson, who joined from the Conservative Party’s parliamentary resources unit.

And the firm’s newly re-launched Public Advocacy arm (formerly Bell Pottinger Special Projects), which offers communications in conflict zones, recently hired Paul Smyth, a former ‘media ops’ adviser to the Ministry of Defence, Christopher Crowther, who also came straight from the MoD and Andrew Sharples, who arrived from a communications job in the Cabinet Office.

Jonathan Oates is the perfect example of the ‘revolving door’ between politics and lobbying. He moved from Bell Pottinger’s public affairs arm to work for the Liberal Democrats and back again twice.

He first left the firm in 2007 to become the party’s communications director, before returning in 2008. He left the company for the second time in the run-up to the general election and is now special adviser and chief of staff to Nick Clegg.

Another example of the revolving door is Jonathan Caine, special adviser to Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson and an ex-BPPA director. He joined Bell Pottinger after more than eight years with the Conservative research department.