Lunch with... David Wild
PRCA director general Francis Ingham had an 'enjoyable and wide-ranging' lunch with Lodestone chairman David Wild at Shepherd's restaurant.
A man walks into Shepherd’s wearing a Bates hat. No, not a very lame joke. Just the beginning of my lunch with David Wild, Chairman of Lodestone, and wearer of very fine hats (I myself own two from Bates – a brown fedora and a top hat made of Canadian beaver).
Lodestone has been up and running for five years now, and I begin with the inevitable question: why the name?
David tells me: "Because I am a scientist from way back when, and I’ve always been fascinated with Lodestone. It’s the material that was used thousands of years ago, by the Chinese, for the very first compasses. It’s also used in voodoo charms if you want to attract money or love."
Money or love? Very topical in the world of public affairs.
"When it came to setting up, I was thinking of a name that summed up how we would give sound advice and political analysis. I wanted something suitably solid. I was thinking of names with stone in them, and my wife pointed to the geological map of Britain that’s on the kitchen wall, and said “How about Lodestone?”. Which fits the bill really well -because lie compasses, we help clients chart a course."
Defence matters were prominently in the news when we met. So we segwayed quite naturally to such things.
"I’m the first one in my family for four generations not to have been in the military. My great grandad was killed in august 1918, and is buried in a little village near Arras. My grandad was torpedoed in Algiers harbour, and managed to get off. He was at El Alamein, he was in Sicily, and then Anzio. His commanding officer was Dennis Healey at Anzio beach; then right at the end of the war it was Alan Whicker. My dad did national service, was sent to Northern Ireland, and met my mum."
Which set the background nicely to talk politics. I ask David what he makes of Labour these days. In need of a new Healey?
"I was a trade unionist earlier in my career, just as my dad was. I do feel myself to be quite old school, with a working-class attitude to patriotism. Ernie Bevin would be my political hero. Public affairs, politics, and business are mashing together in a way that really hasn’t happened since Thatcher de-coupled politics and business at the back end of the 80s with her privatisation programme.
"Take energy. I was lucky enough to work at Nirex, joining just after John Gummer had done them in as the very last act of a Tory government in ’97. He’d rejected the planning application for an underground laboratory at Sellafield. And it was like a weird, long-term grenade rolled towards the incoming Labour Government. Actually, I was offered the job in Shepherds."
Which is rather apposite. Something equally apposite follows
"When I was working for the Environment Agency, I was chair of the trade unions, and I was responsible for commissioning the very first Equal Pay review in the entire public sector."
And yet so many years on, we still wrestle with this issue…. So how did he get into public affairs?
"The big change in my life came when we had a baby. We were living in a room above a shop in York, which had been fine until that point in time. All of a sudden I had to grow up and earn some money. And somebody said to me “Why don’t you get a job in public affairs?” I’d never heard of it. Literally three months later I applied for a job and got it. My first role was at GPC. John Dickie was the MD at the time who employed me. Hats off John, thank you, I’m forever in your debt.
"In the end people don’t employ political advisors or PR specialists unless they have very difficult, ethical issues to handle. And, that’s what we wanted to do with Lodestone. And that’s what we do. At the core of what we do is our analysis. We live and die on its quality. That’s the thing that sets us apart."
I ask if he’d ever wanted to be an MP. And we return to the Chinese theme.
"I wouldn’t be an MP now for all the tea in China. It used to be a job with an awful lot of respect, where you could thoughtfully contribute to the public service of the day. Now it’s a whipping boy position. Power should be used to do the right thing, and that can sometimes be very difficult -but that’s the whole point isn’t it? I worry that because MPs are coming in with less and less experience, if you’re not careful you’ll develop a cohort of people whose only experience of politics is baby kissing. And I mean then it’s just ragtime on the corner, that’s not running the country. And I do worry about that.
"I’m a big fan of Macmillan, a really big fan of Macmillan. I’m a big fan of that whole post-war political period. Labour were very brave setting up the NHS in the teeth of austerity, and yet they did it because it was the right thing to do. Macmillan built hundreds of thousnads of houses. Again, because it was the right thing to do. The whole point of having political leadership is deciding what is and isn’t the right thing to do. And if you believe that you’re doing the right thing, to my mind you’ve got the strength of 10…"
Finally, I ask David my regular question. One thing readers won’t know about him that he’s willing to share?
"I’m an obsessive guitar player. One of my weaknesses is that I I have rather too many guitars. And even though I’ve set myself a rule that it’s one in one out, I don’t think I’ve ever actually got rid of any."
How many are we on?
"Eight or nine!"
And thus ended one of my most enjoyable and most wide-ranging lunches ever. Man walks into Shepherd’s wearing a Bates hat. If it’s David Wild, you’re in for a treat.
Cockles; duck; almond tart
Cauliflower soup; dover sole; sherry trifle