The Independent has a terrific scoop today on how Bell Pottinger, the PR firm chaired by Lord Bell, Baroness Thatcher’s former media adviser, has been promising potential clients access to senior figures in Number 10.
Perhaps the most damaging part of the story for the government is the boast from Tim Collins, managing director of Bell Pottinger Public Affairs, that he was able to get David Cameron to raise the issue of intellectual property with the Chinese government on behalf of Dyson, one of their clients.
The paper quotes Collins as saying:
[Cameron] was doing it because we asked him to do it, and because the issue was in the wider national interest. In terms of very fast turnaround and getting things done right at the top of government, if you’ve got the right message we can do it.
This morning, Number 10 was keen to distance itself from these comments, effectively accusing Bell Pottinger of exaggerating what it can deliver to its clients. A spokesman said:
It is in their interest that they can tell their clients they can provide them with a service and that is what they are doing in that process.
The conversation with the Chinese would have taken place whether there was a conversation beforehand [with Bell Pottinger] or not.
Interestingly, this isn’t the first time Tim Collins has landed a Tory prime minister in hot water. He was also the man responsible for suggesting to the press that John Major’s “Back to Basics” speech in 1993 referred to personal morality, rather than the relationship between the individual and the state, which is what the actual speech mentioned.
It was after lobby reporters were told that Major wanted a return to conservative personal morality that they felt free to investigate the personal lives of his own party’s MPs. And we all know what happened next.