Lunch with... William Walter

Written by Francis Ingham on 10 June 2016 in Features

PRCA director general Francis Ingham breaks bread with Kreab Worldwide associate director William Walter at Shepherd's restaurant.

William Walter

William and I kick off with a general discussion of the political scene and the challenges facing Labour.

"The fascinating thing is the challenge the Labour Party faces in getting any kind of traction. Cameron’s ratings are at a low point, yet Corbyn’s really struggling to gather any momentum - even with Osborne’s awful budget. And as for the Lib Dems, well they’re pretty much non-existent at the moment," he says.

I comment on how politics seems to be in a strange, disruptive phase at the moment. Not just in the UK, but oversees, citing Trump, Rob Ford, and what’s happening in continental Europe.

He agrees: "People are becoming increasingly angry and discontented with the nature of politics. They see plain-speaking populist leaders, who really chime with the way that they’re thinking. There are without a doubt lessons that the mainstream political class can take from this."

Speaking of would-be disrupters, we turn to the dog that used to bark very loudly, and now seems neutered  – UKIP.

"Four million votes, and no seats. They didn’t have the mechanisms and the systems in place in order to really capitalise on their support. I  don’t like them, but I do have sympathy and understanding for a lot of the people who vote for them. During the general election, I went up to Hartlepool, and it was fascinating finding these disaffected, white working class voters who had supported Labour all of their lives, and were now switching to UKIP. I thought that was fascinating."

His Brexit prediction? "Without a shadow of a doubt, the country will vote to remain."

Which is a mighty bold call. But he stands by it. More than that, he rather doubles down…..

"If I’m wrong, I’ll do a Dan Hodges. I’ll have to pledge to run naked down Whitehall."

It might at least show the lobbying tsar that the public affairs industry has nothing to hide…. I ask for another prediction: who will lead the Tories into the next election?

"If you were to have asked me two months ago I probably would’ve said George Osborne. But I think the grassroots have probably been turned off him after yetr another Budget car crash, so I don’t think he’ll get it. If we vote out, then it’s Boris straight away, but we won’t vote out. That rules out Boris and Gove. I’d put my money on Theresa May at the moment."

I ask how Kreab’s doing. He tells me: "We’re a Swedish communications consultancy with offices all around the world. With a presence in North America, in Latin America, and with one of the largest Brussels offices in the business. Our UK public affairs team is headed up by Chris Pond, former DWP Minister.. It’s got a young dynamic team that’s expanding rapidly. It’s a fantastic place to work."

So you heard it here folks. CVs to Kreab please. Speaking of which, I ask what kind of person the company looks for.

"What’s most important is having good political antennae. One of the major challenges that people face is that they treat public affairs as a nine to five business, and it simply isn’t. All of my friends work in politics, so most evenings I’ll be socialising with people who love politics. Who live and breathe politics. Who find it fascinating."

I know exactly where he’s coming from, and his love of politics and public affairs shines through. So I ask if he wouldn’t one day like to switch sides. To be the lobbied rather than the lobbyist?

"I honestly don’t know. I love politics, but… if there was a campaign that I really wanted to champion, or a particular issue, then maybe. At this stage in my career, it’s a no. Having said that, I do spend a lot of my spare time doing political things that I enjoy: volunteering, putting leaflets through letterboxes, canvassing. It was good fun during the general election going up to Hartlepool, to Eastbourne, to Cheadle, to Stockport. All the glamorous places!"

Finally, and as usual, I ask him to tell us one thing that our readers won’t know about him.

"When I was twenty, I cycled across America. With a group of five friends at university, From San Francisco to New York. It was the single best thing I’ve ever done in my life. I would love to go back and do it again. And one day, I will."

And on that note…..

 

We ate:

Asparagus
Duck liver pate
2 lamb shoulder

 

We drank:

Sancerre

 

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