Lunch with… Mark Gallagher
In the latest instalment of a regular feature, PRCA director general Francis Ingham dines with Pagefield founder Mark Gallagher in Shepherd's restaurant.
Mark Gallagher and I kicked off the latest PAN interview - conducted a little bit before the Age of Corbyn dawned - in a novel way. We discussed how we communicate with our kids. And the merits or otherwise of Instagram. But worry not. We swiftly hit the politics…..
“I’m a Tory, but actually I found dealing with the previous Labour Government very straightforward, exactly because I wasn’t involved in any of the intricacy of their own politics. Similarly, after 2010, I found the Liberal Democrats were absolutely superb to work with.”
“All of them”, I ask?
“Well, Cable and his lot were difficult. But the overwhelming majority working around Nick Clegg were straightforward, pragmatic, solutions-driven. I actually found some of them rather easier to deal with than some of my Conservative friends.”
We move on to Labour. I reference the opinion poll that’s put Corbyn on 53%, and ask Mark if he thinks it’s for real, or if the pollsters have over-egged it. He’s definitive:
“I’ve taken soundings from my Labour friends and colleagues. Corbyn will win, and most likely win outright on the first round.”
And he makes a broader point about how the political sands are shifting:
“It’s what we’ve seen with Nicola Sturgeon; with Alex Salmond; with Boris Johnson; what we’ve seen with the exemplary one-man campaigning machine that is Nigel Farage. People responding to authenticity. Authenticity’s now the X-Factor of British politics – and it has been for some time, now. People have grown tired of the managerialism that we’ve had since November 1990. The dancing around the centre ground.”
I ask if our industry doesn’t have to take some blame for that? The way that we’ve hammered into the people we advise the need to repeat their soundbites; the bridging techniques; the avoidance of the dreaded ‘gaffe’?
He’s clear in his response:
“It’s emphatically not our fault. One of the key things that I recommend to clients, and certainly did so when I worked at ITN, Camelot and ITV, is that if you’re spinning a line, or bridging, or employing blancmange language, then it won’t work. Journalists, Ministers, Select Committees, employees – they all want to be told the truth and in a compelling way. The common link with great CEOs is that they are all sufficiently self-confident to be authentic”
We segway back to Corbyn, and the Labour Party under his leadership.
“The Labour party is a very uneasy coalition of traditional working class support, previously in the Scottish central belt and still in the northern cities; and then much more metropolitan supporters and members in London and the south. I read someone the other day describing it as beer drinking Labour versus wine drinking Labour – and which divides as much on social policy as economic policy. The former tend to be socially conservative – the latter liberal or ultra-liberal. Can Corbyn draw sufficient strength and support from both of these constituencies to make a go of it? It doesn’t feel like he can. But never under-estimate the likes of Corbyn. The Blairites and Brownites did - and both like likely to be eclipsed. The Conservative Party should beware of a Corbyn victory – his authenticity may well have a wider popular appeal than we think.”
Which brings us neatly to the Tories. I ask Mark when he thought the shift away from social conservatism in the Tory Party and more broadly in the country had happened. Under Blair?
He disagrees: “It actually starting with Major. Major made us relax a little bit. I have a massive admiration for what Margaret Thatcher achieved in the 80s, but the one thing I absolutely did not admire was her social conservatism. If you’re going to be intellectually consistent, then you believe in economic and social liberalism, which means small government in everything – the economy and the bedroom alike. So I’m delighted at where the Conservative Party has moved. But I would also say that I’ve encountered higher levels of social conservatism in the past 25 years at Labour and TUC conferences than I have at Tory ones.”
At the time we’re lunching, the migrant crisis is beginning to play out, and Cameron has been criticized for his response. I ask what Mark makes of it –what more could and should be done.
“I don’t think that there is a ‘Churchillian response’. Sometimes the best you can offer *is* a managerial one. Sometimes there simply aren’t black and white answers. It’s all about the practicality of governance. Although the last few days and weeks will do wonders for the Brexit camp.”
We talk a little about the competing demands you face in power, and chat about infrastructure. “London, for example, would itself qualify as a G20 economy. Yet its infrastructure is creaking. In a similar manner, we need privately-funded tolled motorways and lots of high speed rail links. But no Government will be brave enough to do that, even with the exemplary Osbourne at the Treasury.”
That brings us to the Tory leadership. Inevitably Osbourne, I ask?
“I’m not sure. If we were judging based on policy performance, political strategy and being a political tactician, you’d say yes, yes and yes. I don’t think he lacks authority, but he might be perceived to lack connectivity with the voters. Electorally, he’s a work in progress, isn’t he?”
We close by talking a little about Pagefield and its growth. Mark’s clearly proud about what it’s achieved and excited about its plans for the future.
“Our fifth anniversary has a coming of age feel to it. Pagefield does feel very different to the start up it was. Back then, it was just a few of us with some laptops and a corporate squat in Golden Square. Oh and a black pug called Boo. That was the entire Pagefield team. But we had a clear offer in the market – specialist, fearless, campaigning.”
“More than 100 clients later, we are rather better established – but I think we’ve held on to that clear offer. The thing I have been really blown away by in the last five years is the enormous level of goodwill and support I’ve received from friends and colleagues – and indeed from rivals. There was very little of the green eyed monster, and a lot of cheerleading. Generosity of spirit is not something you necessarily associate with our profession, but it is there in spades.”
And on that note, we turn to the merits of pugs versus English Mastiffs, and to the starters in front of us…..
MG: Boiled bacon, Leg of lamb
FI: Boiled bacon, Shepherds pie