Lunch with... Elin De Zoete
PRCA director general Francis Ingham grabs a bite with PLMR managing director Elin De Zoete at Shepherd's restaurant.
Elin and I met for lunch with the lobbying world still quaking from the general election. I was intrigued to discover if she was one of those Labour lobbyists who were shocked and pleased with that result; or one of the rather greater number shocked and unhappy that their Party had done quite so well.
Before all that though, we talk about our industry and Elin strikes a positive note.
"Any political change is good for public affairs, in that clients are trying to understand the new landscape, trying to get to know the new ministers. While on the face of it, not much has changed in the sense that we still have a May government, everything has changed really.
"We already see departments pushing forward their own agendas. For example, we do a lot of work in education. The grammar schools policy is pretty much out of the window; Justine Greening is really pushing on social mobility; and free schools might be at risk. We have lots of clients in that sector, so there are opportunities as well as threats."
As evidence of the opportunities, Elin tells me about PLMR’s latest acquisition: Mango.
"They were based in Weybridge, and they’ve moved across to our office in Westminster, opposite the DfE. They are an education specialist PR agency, so what we’re doing now is looking at how we keep our ethos and the culture of our business, but add strength and depth to our specialist areas. Mango is our first acquisition, and we’re looking to make a second one pretty soon.
"What’s quite interesting is that yes we are a public affairs agency, but we do a lot on the PR side too. I think it is a sign of how things are shifting that you don’t necessarily have just big pure public affairs teams anymore. We are a real cross discipline team -we’ve got a digital and creative unit of six people now, and those skills are as important to us when we’re recruiting as public affairs skills."
Elin has mentioned ethos, so I push her on that a little. What makes PLMR special?
"When Kevin Craig set the business up, he wanted it to have a different culture. So we’ve always given 5% of our profits to charity. Kevin’s favourite gag is that that was easy on day one, but it gets harder every year. We still do it though.
"Ethos gets harder as you get bigger, but we try not to have an overly corporate atmosphere to the business. For example, we do yoga in the office on a Monday -that kind of things."
I’m pleased when Elin clarifies that the team yoga is optional. It wouldn’t exactly suit everybody who works in lobbying…… On which lycra-clad image, we move back to politics. So, did she predict the general election result accurately?
"I’d love to say yes, but that reality is that I didn’t. I think anyone who tells you that they got it right is making it up. YouGov did well, and that was important for them, as they were trying to repair their reputation from the 2015 election."
Wasn’t almost everyone! So, what of the parties?
"The Lib Dems have shot themselves in the foot. Their election strategy of just going on about Brexit was wrong. People were quite weary of the Brexit debate by that time. The Lib Dems are on the side-lines for the time being."
"I was a member of the Labour Party. Respect to Corbyn, he had a good campaign, and he had a clear message. He is in an incredibly strong position now - he still didn’t win, yet the narrative that he’s managed to convey is that the Party was victorious. A Jeremy Corbyn premiership is now not such a far-fetched idea."
Instinctively, I gulp down some wine in horror. When I've recovered, I ask the question that all lobbyists have been asking for the past few months. Where did the Tories go wrong?
"The manifesto. It was the Tories’ election to lose. They had a 20-point lead. And then they put something in the manifesto that was a fundamental challenge to their core electorate.
"We do a lot of work in social care, and we work with a lot of providers. We know that the whole sector is on its knees, and that something does absolutely need to be done to save it. But to put that in your manifesto? Well, it was crazy."
And not even Nick Timothy (now) would disagree with that. Do we need to say anything about UKIP I ask?
"I don’t think so."
Elin’s answer is a comment in itself of course. And now few quick-fire questions starting with: who will win the next general election?
"It depends when it happens. If it happens within the next two years, Labour."
Outside of those two years?
"It depends how the Brexit negotiations pan out, and where the economy is. I wouldn’t like to guess."
Will the UK leave the EU?
"I think the UK will leave the EU, but with a very soft deal."
And who will be the next leader of the Tory party?
"If there was leadership election today, I think it would be Boris. If it was in a couple of years’ time, you’d get someone who is new guard, maybe Dominic Raab."
Finally, something personal that Elin is happy to share with our readers?
"In my private life, I play in brass bands. I play the baritone horn, in the City of London Brass Band. And it is wonderful."
Which is, frankly, ironic. Because Elin rarely blows her own horn. Except, apparently, when she’s out of the office.
Jellied Ham and Lamb Sweetbreads; followed by Plaice and Shepherd’s Pie