Saturday, 20 February 2010

How to get on in PR (and politics)

There is an enjoyable and somewhat informative David Cameron: the PR years Guardian profile of one of the less well known episodes that made the man who would be Prime Minister: his spell as head of PR and communications for Carlton television.

This is usually glossed over as a brief hiatus when describing Cameron's journey from Eton and Oxford to Conservative Central Office and ministerial spaddery to Norman Lamont and Michael Howard before later going into Parliament. We are all the product of our experiences and, as the Guardian notes, a spell of seven years in his early thirties made this an important period of Cameron's professional development.

The most embarassing part of the account may be how he got the gig.

The manner in which he obtained the job says much about how men of Cameron's background tend to progress through life. The future Tory leader, whose credentials at Conservative central office were already well-established after periods working for Norman Lamont and Michael Howard, believed a stint in the private sector would benefit his political career. With no experience outside politics, he did what any old Etonian might do and worked his contacts. The mother of Cameron's then girlfriend Samantha, Lady Astor, was friends with Michael Green, then executive chairman of Carlton and one of Margaret Thatcher's favourite businessmen. She suggested he hire Cameron, and Green, a mercurial millionaire, obliged. The 27-year-old was duly recruited on a salary of about £90,000 a year (the equivalent of more than £130,000 today).

One former Carlton executive remembers Green often found jobs for family friends and social acquaintances. "At one stage I was asked to find a job for Michael's daughter and also for Suzie Ratner [daughter of Gerald Ratner, whose jewellery business collapsed after he described his own products as 'crap']. On one hand [Carlton] was kind of a global conglomerate, on the other it was like a family business. It would be 'my neighbour's nephew's daughter' or 'someone I met at the synagogue or at Arsenal' – and not 'Would you give them a job?' but 'Give them a fucking job'".

Though Cameron (rightly) says that where he went to school isn't particularly relevant to his claim to national leadership, he has also said the opposite too, telling the Tory party conference that: "I went to a fantastic school. I’m not embarrassed about that because I had a great education and I know what a great education means. And knowing what a great education means, means there’s a better chance of getting it for all of our children, which is absolutely what I want, in this country".

On that basis, the Guardian account suggests that David Cameron could also be particularly well placed to bring some inside insights into Alan Milburn's social mobility drive to open up the media and the professions, and break open a cosy and clubbable "who you know" closed circle to meritocracy and talent.

James Robinson and David Teather, as experienced Guardian media and business reporters, seem to have worked their contacts well to get some insider accounts on background terms. There are certainly no scandals. The account is slightly racily written but is not unfair and offers some interesting insights into the character of a man who is necessarily somewhat steelier than his nice guy public image.

The Carlton PR years may also do something to explain the strong eye for communication and media which Cameron has brought to political leadership and his core concern to 'decontaminate' the Conservative party's "brand".


Newmania said...

Thats how lots of people get their jobs Sunder , I think you will find the great British Private Sector Working Classes amused rather than horrified.

Letters From A Tory said...

"he did what any old Etonian might do and worked his contacts"

What an appalling remark. Are you seriously suggesting that no Labour minister or former minister has ever 'worked their contacts' to secure private sector employment? Are you suggesting that trade unions have never pulled a few strings to get their way or get their preferred candidate into prime positions?

Honestly, putting these sorts of laughable smears on your blog does you no credit Sunder - I thought you were better than that.

Robert said...

Gordon Brown doing a deal with Blair....