Lunch with... Gill Morris

Written by Francis Ingham on 18 June 2015 in Features

In the second installment of a regular feature, PRCA director general Francis Ingham dines with Connect Communcations chair Gill Morris in Shepherd's restaurant

How to follow Peter Bingle for lunch? There’s only one answer of course –deploy Gill Morris, doyenne of the lobbying world, and winner of the 2014 Public Affairs Awards Outstanding Achievement accolade.

But of course Gill didn’t *quite* enjoy the general election result to the same extent that Peter did…

“So Gill, you must be chuffed about the General Election result?”

She giggles. “Well actually, I’m more chuffed than you think, because I’m glad about the certainty; but also the uncertainty that’s coming for David Cameron in terms of Europe, Scotland, Devolution, Right To Buy. So it’s great for business really.” Which I have to admit is a pretty good response. 

I tease her about what it means for Connect, given it has a clear Labour-leaning. Again, Gill is in upbeat mood. “We’re a cross-party shop. We’ve got people from all parties and it’s not who you know –it’s what you know.” Which come to think of it is the point we’ve made every time a ‘lobbying scandal’ has broken. 

I ask her about her plans for the future, and the answer is surprising –China. She’s just come back from a trip there with Osborne (I can imagine Peter exploding with jealousy).  

“China is really interesting and obviously George Osborne is very desperate for China to solve the deficit.”

I can’t ignore the chance to tease her here. “You mean the deficit that Labour created through overspending?”  Rightly, she ignores me and carries on.                

“One thing is for sure –you really want Chinese investment. There will be problems enticing it unless Britain stays in Europe.”

Which seems to invite an obvious question: “So, referendum –what will happen?”

“I think it will be a vote to stay in, but the journey to that conclusion will cause a lot of nervousness. I also think that the game that Cameron is playing at the moment is a bit like, ‘Oh I’ll show you how tough I can be, we won’t be run by Europe but we will be in Europe’.”

But how reliable are her predictions? After all, she said it would be a Labour Government. Gill corrects me, laughingly. “Labour-led!” 

She adds, “Everybody got it wrong with the exception of you, Peter Bingle and Dan Hodges.”

While I blush, she adds something really interesting. “We all knew as soon as Ed Miliband was elected that he wasn’t going to be electable.”

So why did so many people expect another hung parliament, most likely with Miliband in Downing Street 

“It was like the classic thing that happens in China –because somebody else says it, we all say it and that’s the line. That’s the propaganda. The only poll that was right was the exit poll.”

And then Gill again finds reasons to be cheerful. In one word –‘Southwark’. In a few more: “We did well. Well. In London we did. So there’s a worry for David Cameron.” Which is undeniable. 

We segue from Labour’s good showing in London, via a bit of laughing about the Lib Dems, through the potential political problems created by Osborne’s Northern Powerhouse, and then to Gordon Brown and Scotland’s future.

“He is a much maligned character. He did save the ‘No Vote’. He and John Major played a blinder there. But what happened in Scotland should have been foreseen, and it wasn’t.”

‘So what’s the way back for Labour?’ 

Gill is candid as always. “I don’t think the way back for Labour is for a while. I think it’s slightly quicker than last time, and the candidates are marginally better I suppose than Ed Miliband was.  But none of them are greatly inspiring.”

I ask who Gill will be voting for and she says that she hasn’t quite decided yet “I’m more interested in the deputy leadership vote than the leadership contest, because there are more interesting characters”

Tom Watson, I suggest? “Yes. Obviously Tom’s an old client and friend and I will be supporting him.” We agree that he was, in many ways, more realistic and sensible about the lobbying industry than the Tories who followed him.

“For me,” she says, “the leader would be between Yvette and Andy. So then I think, ‘Who would work best, Yvette and Tom or Andy and Tom?’ And I think it would probably be Andy and Tom.”

After another quick return to the opportunities offered in China and the likelihood that Osborne will be the next Tory PM, we return to the Register.

“Stable for five years?”

“Yes I think it will become inconsequential. I still think it’s pointless but the Government isn’t going to rock the boat. I haven’t joined up yet, but I will do.”

I note that we have plenty of members who tell us they are not caught by it, but they nonetheless feel the need to sign up, and Gill agrees that she’s probably in that position too. “It’s the job of the self-regulatory bodies to prove that it’s a waste of space.” She notes, referring to the APPC and PRCA. 

Gill’s award last year was, obviously, the high point of her career... But surely she’d like another little bauble?  “You’d love to be Baroness Morris wouldn’t you?”

“Oh I’d love that yes. There is another one, of course my cousin Estelle. We won back her seat you know.” 

And the laughter begins again, and the taping stops. As we left Shepherd’s, I couldn’t help but reflect that two things stand out about Gill. First, she sees the positive to everything. And second, she laughs a hell of a lot. Both of which are truly excellent qualities. 

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We ate:
Asparagus
Pea soup
Dover sole
Beef fillet

We drank
A bottle of Sancerre 

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