Lunch with... Iain Anderson
PRCA director general Francis Ingham catches up with Cicero Consulting boss Iain Anderson at Shepherd's restaurant.
The challenge of going for lunch with Iain Anderson is this: the night before you’re due to meet up, some end-of-career Parliamentarian is exposed offering to sell their services to an undercover journo. And then bang goes your lunch –because you’re both doing your best to explain that this is yet another lobbying scandal involving no lobbyists.
Fortunately, our esteemed legislators had been sensible the day before I caught up with the APPC Chairman in Shepherd’s….
After a quick gossip on the pleasures of holidays, Canada, and iphones, we get down to the politics. So what does the election result mean for Cicero?
“A lot more business. Pretty much as soon as the result was clear, the industry started moving again. The Government has hit the ground running, and that’s creating a lot of opportunity for the public affairs industry. Add to that a small majority and uncertainty about what happens on the other side of the EU referendum, and you can see just why these are busy times. “
We talk about what Labour’s new direction of travel means for politics.
“I can’t see a Corbyn-led Government. What I can see is a Tory Government,” he says.
“Cherry-picking interesting polices. The most popular thing Labour did during the election campaign was the non-dom policy. George Osborne thought ‘I quite like that. I think I’ll just knick most of it’. The same with corporate tax. Living wage, ditto. It’s fascinating how the Tories want to steal Labour’s best notes.”
I reflect that this is the reverse of what happened in the 80s in some ways –that’s Labour’s weakness then led Thatcher to go even further in the face of failed opposition.
Anderson agrees, and talk moves inevitably to what the future Tory party looks and who leads it.
“Boris? Don’t write him off. He’ll relaunch.
“May? Definitely still there. And don’t overlook Javid either.”
And then we move onto Osborne
“There’s a hyperactivity to him right now, and you get the sense he has already formulated his domestic agenda. There’s a real comparison with the Blair-Brown arrangement.”
I ask if he thinks it’ll work out better for Osborne than it did for the most recent Chancellor to move one door up the street.
“There’s a great expression about Osborne: he can see around more political corners than anybody else in Westminster. Scotland for example. He’s thinking about what the SNP’s dominance for the next 18 months or two years means. Just as with the living wage announcement, he’s working out how to outflank Labour for an entire term and beyond.”
Perhaps presciently, we move onto the House of Lords. In light of the latest batch of new Peers making the House even larger than before, I suggest that it is unsustainable as an institution.
“I believe we need a second chamber, I do believe in a bicameral parliament.
“I’m in favour of an elected chamber and I have been for a long time. You could make sure the election cycle wasn’t in synch with the Commons’. Election terms of seven years, and a vetting procedure to ensure you achieve a real balance of people who aren’t just party men and women. So that you have people with real experience from academia, the public, private, third sectors.”
Conversation returns to Scotland. “I have to ask, you are a Scottish Tory” I begin, only to be interrupted”
“I am THE Scottish Tory,” he responds jokingly.
I ask if he thinks there’s any way back for the Tories in Scotland. The latest poll has put them comfortably in second place there, a remarkable turn of events. We agree that the SNP is set fair for the foreseeable future, and then Iain volunteers:
“Frankly, a dream for me would be to do what I do and run my business both here and there. But nobody has made a success of that yet. It would be great if there were players there with scale and with global ambitions.”
Speaking of ambitions, we turn to what the future holds for Cicero.
He says: “We relish our independence. We now have a great footprint in the UK, Brussels, the States, Asia.
“We are building a truly integrated business. We’ve got a big public affairs heritage that I think everybody knows about, but we have an exponentially growing corporate communications business too.
“We’ve just moved the London shop, into a new shiny building right next to the Old Bailey. It gets all 50 of the team in London in one place, and helps to join up our work.”
We finish by talking about Iain’s other passion –for the future of our industry. I ask where he sees regulation going, and for an evaluation of the Register’s performance so far.
“If people in the sector expect to see the repeal of the Lobbying Act, then they are going to have a long, long wait. What we are trying to do is to have really constructive engagement with the Cabinet Office and a constructive relationship with Alison White. I’m delighted that she’s taken on board many of the things that we’ve brought to her. And I praise her for engaging with law firms and management consultancies, and getting them to sign up.”
Finally, does he expect further ‘lobbying scandals’?
“Absolutely. They almost never involve our industry, as you and I point out. And when one does involve our industry, we are the first to say ‘Get out, you shouldn’t be there, because you are tarring everybody with the same brush.’
“But I would say this – it’s a great time to work in lobbying. There’s been an election. The economy is doing well. There are some very, very interesting assignments out there. Now go grab the opportunity.”
On which note, we decided to grab our starters.