PR Uncovered: Bell Pottinger’s ‘extensive connections’ in Parliament

The full extent of Bell Pottinger’s claimed connections and influence across British political life on behalf of its clients are revealed today.

Taped recordings of senior executives speaking to undercover journalists from the Bureau reveal that the company:

* Claimed it could arrange meetings with the special adviser to Vince Cable as the best way to get to the ‘cantankerous’ Business Secretary.

* Told the ‘Uzbek business representatives’ that Bell Pottinger had close relations with a Foreign Office minister Alastair Burt, a Department of Business, Innovation and Skills minister and the chair of the Defence Select Committee.

* Told clients not to give money to political parties because it was ‘becoming counter-productive’.

The Bureau also reveals how lobbyists working for another London public relations firm said they could create an internet ‘attack site’ for the government of Rwanda over accusations it had been involved in genocide.

Raised concerns
The latest revelations will add to significant concerns that the absence of regulation has made London the global centre for ‘reputation laundering’, where lobbyists work behind the scenes on behalf of the world’s most controversial regimes.

In the wake of the Bureau’s investigation, the government faced calls from Tory, Lib Dem and Labour MPs to reform Britain’s secretive lobbying system – and create a register of lobbyist interests. In a poll of 115 MPs, almost two-thirds already agreed that a statutory register would help the democratic process, compared with 13 per cent who said it would not.

Conservative backbencher Jesse Norman said the disclosures showed that lobbying was a ‘canker on the body politic’.

‘There is a huge need for greater transparency and integrity and honesty in the relationships between different business organisations and politicians. This casts both sides in rather a bad light,’ she added.

Jon Trickett, Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office, said the investigation showed that: ‘If you have a million pounds in your back pocket you can get access to government. But for millions of ordinary voters that is now impossible.’

Related article: Top lobbyists boast of how they influence the PM

The firms that rejected the business

During the undercover investigation into lobbying, 10 firms were contacted. Two of these, Morris International Associates and Ogilvy, immediately refused to accept the business from the Uzbek regime, which is responsible for grave human rights abuses.

An hour-long meeting with Ann Morris, director of Morris International, where the undercover reporters tried to convince the company it should represent Uzbekistan, ended in a formal rejection.

It took less than 10 minutes for the firm to make it clear that they were unwilling to take on the regime as their client.

It was explained during the hour-long meeting that one of the requirements was online ‘reputational management’ – to which Bell Pottinger agreed in its own meetings with the reporters. Morris International made it clear this was something they were not prepared to engage in.

The approach to a second firm, Ogilvy PR, never turned into an actual meeting. An initial connection was made by email and subsequently followed up with a telephone call. This lasted less than two minutes and the rejection of the request was quick and clear.

Neither of the two companies made it known that they felt a ‘sting’ was in operation. Their rejection was based on what they were being asked to do.