Lunch with... Jon McLeod
PRCA director general Francis Ingham dined with the Brunswick partner and UK head of public affairs at Shepherd's restaurant
My opening question to Jon McLeod is my usual sarcastic one: what shall we talk about? To which most people respond with a weary resignation ‘Brexit'. But not Jon, who says football.
"Well, football and Brexit. There’s an it’s interesting question about whether or not players can move around, and whether or not there are limits on the quota of overseas players that are allowed to play in clubs in different competitions. Brexit may make players less mobile. Mind you, as I support Derby County, I don’t think it’ll have much of an impact on the quality of what goes on at Pride Park."
It is quite a typical Jon answer -detailed, unexpected, knowledgeable. I ask what he’s advising clients on Brexit right now?
"Brexit is a very big issue in the UK, but when you travel in Europe it’s slightly less of one. It’s an important issue, but it’s not the burning concern of the day.
"The focus of clients is about maintaining effective arrangements. Access to UK talent, and the ability for that talent to move around will be an issue. And making sure that the UK can trade on equal terms will be an issue too. So we try and look at it from an international, global perspective, rather than from sitting inside the surrounded camp that is the UK political mind-set at the moment."
Talking of surrounded camps, who will be the PM this time next year?
"The likelihood of it still being Theresa May has diminished over time because of the fractious state of the Conservative Party. But recent developments present as much of a challenge for the Labour Party as they do for the Conservative Party. The internal tussle within the Labour Party continues to play out, leaving the door open to a second referendum.
"What we want as a country is a strong opposition which is able to engage effectively and challenge the Government of the day. We need a Parliament which is capable of challenging and calling the Executive to account, and we want a Labour Party at peace with itself. It’s certainly not good for democracy."
I observe that pretty much all parties are experiencing a period of uncertainty -or as one might better describe it, chaos- with discipline breaking down everywhere you look.
"Well yes. And people don’t like it. Now people don’t like whipping -they don’t like the idea that MPs vote according to a Whip. But actually, that’s good for the system. It creates certainty. It creates a sense of programme in Government. We’ve got to get back to that. We’ve got to get back to Governments which have a clear ideological framework where they’re able to pursue an agenda which is well understood. "
And I'm sure we all (or at least the Whips among us) would agree with that. So much for politics -on to the industry. Jon was famously at Weber for 21 years. Which is Thatcher’s and Blair’s Premierships combined and more. What’s it like to have moved on?
"The two things I’d say about Brunswick are that the people and the clients are pretty awe-inspiring. The bench is awesome. When people ask what’s the appeal of Brunswick, I say that it’s like Man City. It’s that level of quality, plus the access to talent and the international perspective as well."
It’s my first PAN interview since the APPC merger went ahead, so naturally I ask Jon if he has a view. And he deftly sidesteps -as those of a footballing persuasion might say.
"Hopefully the new structure will be more effective in promoting understanding of the public affairs industry. We’re all clear that communicating the value delivered by the industry to the democratic debate is absolutely critical. We need to reiterate that message again and again and again and again until we’re bored with saying it.
"I look back at some of the campaigns that I’ve run over the years. I’ve twice prevented Governments of both hues from abolishing the right to trial by jury in either-way cases. I’ve successfully opposed restrictions on judicial review which Governments don’t like because it’s a check on the Executive. And I’ve changed the law to make sure that 17-year olds have access to legal advice if they’re detained. Lobbying is about reinforcing the quality of a democratic debate. Reinforcing the institutions. Making sure that there’s challenge to the Executive. Improving the quality of the process."
So to the final question -something about Jon that readers are unlikely to know, and that he’s happy to share. He offers two
"First, I’m a student again because I’m at King’s College, London. I’m refreshing my Russian by doing upper intermediate Russian language. It’s back to what I first did when I was 15 and studying O-Level Russian. I visited the Soviet Union under Leonid Brezhnev, because even at the height of the Cold War there was cultural and education exchange, and even if there were difficult times with a nation you’ve got to maintain the quality of that exchange, because it’s the way peoples interrelate that counts.
"Secondly, I spend as much time as possible in Manchester with the Hallé Orchestra where I’m a board member of the world-famous Symphony Orchestra. I’ve got a passion for classical music. Not just concert performances, but significant social and educational outreach in the Greater Manchester area, bringing the power of music to audiences and communities who normally would not be touched by it. It’s in keeping with the radical roots of the orchestra Charles Hallé founded with a view to bringing music to the masses.
"Working with an orchestra is a bit like working with a political system. You are trying to get component elements to create one symphonic whole, and that’s what a lobbyist tries to do, joining bits together in order to deliver what’s sometimes seen as an unattainable outcome."
At which point, we abandoned lobbying, Russia, and music, and turned instead to food and wine.
Potted crab and mince and onions
Squash and pumpkin soup followed also by mince and onions