Lunch with... Paul Bristow
PRCA director general Francis Ingham breaks bread with APPC chair and PB Consulting managing director Paul Bristow at Shepherd's restaurant.
I caught up with Paul Bristow almost immediately after he’d taken over at the APPC, and just a a little while after the General Election. So, our first topic of conversation was obvious. What did he make of the political scene right now?
"It’s extraordinary. You’ve got a situation where the Conservatives are winning seats like Mansfield, and Walsall, and my old seat of Middlesbrough South, but losing ones like Kensington, Battersea, Hove, York. The worrying trend is how many A and B voters are voting for the Labour Party; while curiously the Conservatives are doing much better amongst the C1s, C2s and more traditionally working class voters."
I ask what Paul ascribes that to.
"Partly I think a lot of social liberals who voted Remain have been put off the Conservatives. Party because of the change of tone in various ways from the party. Partly because Theresa May trashed Cameron’s record.
"And that’s a shame. Because the Conservative Party have a strong record. If you look at employment, or deficit reduction, or many other things that they’ve done. I think she handed the narrative over to Jeremy Corbyn."
This reminds me of Gore refusing to embrace Clinton’s record -and losing. Mrs May didn’t of course ‘lose’. But…..
"A few months ago, Theresa May was 24 points ahead in the points. Mistress of all she surveyed. The Labour Party were on the floor. The question wasn’t “Will Theresa May win?” It was “How big will she win?” Now remember, she still won, but we are in the current situation despite her getting 42% of the vote.
"What that says to me is that the Conservative party and the Labour party have much decreasing core votes. They may each have 25% or something around that as a core vote. But the rest is very much in play. If it’s changed once, it can change again."
I ask Paul how he think this change can happen, and he tells me that it requires three things.
"The first is that they need to win back those socially liberal people who voted Conservative, for David Cameron, and especially in London.
"The second is that the Conservative Party must recognise that there is a genuine young person’s grievance, and then address it.
"And the third is that the Party must show how voting for it will improve people’s lives. They must motivate people. They didn’t do that in the last election. If you don’t go into an election showing how people’s lives are going to be better by voting for you, then you’ve got a real problem."
Which seems a pretty decent prescription for the Tories. What about the APPC? I ask first if I should refer to him as Chair or Chairman. And he responds…..
"Let’s be old-fashioned. Let’s say Chairman.
"I want to promote what makes the APPC worthwhile. And that’s our openness and our transparency. I want to see the APPC defend lobbying as a force for good because, without lobbying, democracy would be weaker. We would be allowing politicians to make up their minds based on information from the Daily Mail, and civil servants and I don’t think that’s ever a good situation.
"The Government consults all the time on everything, maybe 50 times a week, on everything from how much it should cost to cross the Severn Bridge, to how much medical devices should cost the NHS. Without good lobbying, the unintended consequences of Government and policy would huge. That’s what lobbying does. It warns about the unintended consequences of bad policy.
"I’d like to see more and more potential clients demanding more openness and transparency from agencies. Asking if they’re members of the PRCA or the APPC. I, obviously, can’t force that to happen, but I think openness and transparency, as part of the pitch process would be a good thing."
Amen to that. And a little about PB Consulting?
"So, PB Consulting are having their seventh anniversary party this month. It’s been a hell of a journey over those seven years. When we started, I didn’t think we would be at 12 members of staff, with a strong seven-figure turnover. We’re a company that specialises in healthcare and education but our plans don’t stop there. We want to continue to grow as an agency, and be twice as big as we are in three or four years’ time."
I ask if Paul still wants to be a Tory MP? And the candour he’s shown all the way through lunch continues:
"Let’s put it like this, it’s always been something I ultimately want to do. But I’m thoroughly enjoying being a lobbyist. It’s good for democracy and -if that is my contribution to public policy- I will be a very happy man."
Finally, a little personal morsel of information. Something that he’s happy to share with our readers?
"When I left university in 2001, I had two career options. One was a job with the Conservative Party. The other path open to me was to be a Club 18-30 rep in Faliraki in Rhodes. I wonder if I
made the right decision? I’ll let readers decide."
At which point, we chose the path of food. Though there were, alas, no Greek dishes on the menu.
Sweetbreads; plaice; shepherd’s pie; and just for once, pigged out on dessert too.