Blairites branch out with own agencies
As the industry lacks a go-to Labour agency, Darren Murphy and Kevin McKeever are striking out on their own.
Two prominent Labour-supporting lobbyists have moved to set up their own public affairs shops.
Kevin McKeever has quit his position as a partner at Portland to establish a new public affairs outfit with a least one other industry figure.
By striking out on his own in 2017, McKeever is following in the footsteps of Darren Murphy. He who quit Bell Pottinger last year and is now a running Brexit-focused consultancy called Article 50 Associates.
McKeever is a vocal Labour moderate and has been a parliamentary candidate in both the 2010 and 2015 general elections. He recently hit the headlines when he received a death threat following a series of outlandish allegations about Portland made by The Canary website.
McKeever told PAN his new agency would formally launch in March and that it would “advise on reputation and political risk”, with a focus on international firms looking to do business in London.
Murphy is a former special adviser to Tony Blair who went on to establish the lobbying firm Centreground Political Communications. He sold the agency to Bell Pottinger in 2014.
The ex-Labour aide has set up the new shop with Jon Hudson, who was an adviser to the former shadow chancellor Chris Leslie and then head of external affairs at the Prince of Wales’ charity Business in the Community.
Murphy told PAN: "Brexit is the most significant political event for a generation. It's complex and challenging. We want to help make it work for employers and employees, exporters and importers by letting their voice be properly heard and understood."
The news comes as the UK public affairs industry continues to lack an obvious candidate for the title of leading Labour-led lobbying firm.
Portland was set up in 2001 by Alastair Campbell's deputy Tim Allan. But ever since David Cameron looked set to win the 2010 election, Portland has gone of its way to successfully build its Tory credentials.
One well-known public affairs outfit with a Labour-supporting leadership team is Connect Communications. The agency is now led by former Labour MP Andy Sawford following a management buy-out last year.
Another leading Labour-friendly agency, Insight Consulting Group, was recently acquired by Four Communications. ICG is run by John Lehal, who recently served as campaign manager for both Andy Burnham and Owen Smith in their bids to be Labour leader.
In 2015, former Labour MP Tom Harris and his wife set up a lobbying and PR consultancy called Third Avenue Communications.
The lobbying world is yet experience an agency run by a supporter of Jeremy Corbyn.