Blair's brains trust

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The Independent Online
They have been waiting a very long time, most of them for almost two decades, for the chance to take their seats at the top table of British politics. They are new Labour's New Establishment-in-waiting, the placemen and women whom Tony Blair will call upon should he become prime minister to help him run the country. These are the people to whom he would turn for advice and ideas, to sit on commissions and fix problems, to help, often behind the scenes, to see his government through the crises that would inevitably afflict it once the initial honeymoon was over.

The people who make up this dense network of friends and associates are more than just advisers. They are the people Blair would call upon to fill the unelected jobs of government on the quangos and state agencies that have multiplied during the Eighties and Nineties thanks to the Conservatives' reforms of the state. These are the people it will be vital to know if you are a lobbyist, entrepreneur or journalist seeking to get a sense of the inside track on a Blair government's thinking.

What characterises the members of new Labour's New Establishment? What entitles one to membership of this new elite in waiting? As a guide, it is worth going back to Margaret Thatcher's attack on the old establishment during her period as prime minister.

She set out with a clear view that much of the old British establishment - public school, Oxbridge, Foreign Office, ineffectual - had let the country down. She set out to sweep it aside in a kind of Disestablishment, bringing in like-minded people to positions of power: they were often from lower middle-class backgrounds and redbrick universities with a track record as entrepreneurs and business executives.

It is striking that the New Establishment would neither hark back to the past nor be as narrowly political as Mrs Thatcher's group of supporters. True, within its ranks are many who have been loyal to Labour through the very occasional years of thick and the many years of thin. But Blair's Establishment is also more meritocratic. He has attracted and been open to business people traditionally hostile to Labour - Rupert Murdoch is the prime case in point - as well as welcoming back former deserters to the SDP, such as the political theorist David Marquand.

Think-tanks have been vital to bringing together the New Establishment. Many of its members won their spurs for Labour by working with either the Institute of Public Policy Research or Demos.

There is also a generational component. Most members of the New Establishment are in their forties, of like age and mind to Blair. They are ambitious, capable and frustrated by living most of their adult lives under Tory rule. These are not Labour luvvies, most are hard-headed managers used to running sizeable organisations. Blair has no time for people who are incapable of focusing upon winning.

That may also be the weakness of this group as they prepare anxiously for power. They may be too alike, too similar, too metropolitan, not in touch enough with the grassroots of politics. The New Establishment may provide Blair with a solid base on which to build, but it may also embody the weaknesses upon which a future Labour government may founder.




New Labour will have no shortage of people keen to offer advice in specialist areas of policy. One of the party's strengths should be economics. Here the key adviser is almost certain to be the highly talented Gavyn Davies, chief economist at Goldman Sachs. As a near youth Davies worked for Jim Callaghan in the Seventies. He is unlikely to join a Blair government: he has become fabulously wealthy working in the City. But his links to Labour are still strong: his wife, Sue Nye, is a central figure in Gordon's Brown's office.

David Curry, head of economic forecasting at the London Business School, is also thought to be influential. The LBS provided several top economists for the Thatcher governments during the Eighties. Will Hutton, the Guardian economics commentator, could also be influential. Out of favour is Andrew Dilnot, of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, who fell out with Gordon Brown over his plan for a 10p tax band.

Perhaps the main influence on Blair's health thinking would come from Robert Winston, 55, professor of fertility studies at Hammersmith Hospital, London. Winston's interest in creating centres of medical excellence and harnessing the power of the information superhighway to make medicine more open and efficient appeals to the modernising side of Blair's thinking.

In education, watch out for Michael Barber, professor at the Institute of Education at the University of London. Barber is a former senior official in the National Union of Teachers, but is a hard-headed manager and supporter of a tough policy to improve teaching standards. He was a member of the government team that recently shut down Hackney Downs school and is widely seen as the architect of the party's Fresh Start policy, which advocates giving failing schools new names, new headteachers and new governors to revive them. A quieter and more traditional voice may come from Sir Geoffrey Holland, the self effacing former head of the Department of Employment, who is a specialist in training policy and now vice-chancellor of Exeter University.

Other wise old heads may be Gordon Borrie, former head of the Office of Fair Trading and chair of Labour's Commission for Social Justice, and Tessa Blackstone, 53, Labour spokesperson on foreign affairs in the House of Lords. She will be able to offer her experience as a member of the Number 10 think-tank during the Seventies. She has a wide range of expertise covering prisons, the arts and education.

Four other names to watch out for: Liz Symonds, 44, the able general secretary of the First Division Association and trustee of the Institute for Public Policy Research, who appears determined to get on the inside track, may advise on civil service matters; David Puttnam, the film producer, who is still busy generating ideas on a wide range of cultural issues including the future of London; Lucy Heller, the 36-year old executive chair of Verso, who has had a career spanning publishing and corporate finance, and Sir Richard Rodgers, the Modernist architect who may have an influential voice on urban planning and regeneration.




Prime ministers need supporters in business, in part to raise election-fighting funds but also to make them seem trustworthy: a prime minister with business friends is less likely to ruin the economy. Margaret Thatcher was closely linked to a wave of British businessmen: Lord Hanson, Lord King at British Airways, and in the early days Sir John Hoskyns, founder of the computer company of the same name.

Labour's most influential business friend is the 50-year-old millionaire socialist Clive Hollick, managing director of MAI, the media and financial group, and chairman of Meridian TV. He was a founder trustee of the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) and a member of its commission on public policy and business. He shares Tony Blair's ambition to reconcile competitiveness and commerce with conscience and public responsibility.

Another voice of influence will be that of Gail Rebuck, 43. She is a millionaire after selling her shares in Century Hutchinson when it was bought by Random House, where she is managing director. Rebuck is a networker: she is married to Philip Gould, the party's leading image consultant, and through her work has contacts with a range of left-leaning celebrity authors such as Robert Harris and Nick Hornby.

Christopher Haskins, chairman of Northern Foods, is a familiar face in Blair circles. He was a long-standing friend of Labour even when it was unfashionable. He was instrumental in setting up the think-tank Demos. Haskins is tipped for a role in the House of Lords.

David Sainsbury, chairman and chief executive of the food retailer, will play an important role as a sounding board for policy ideas. He helped to fund the Social Democratic Party, but recently joined Labour, declaring that under Blair it had become much like the SDP.

More intriguing are a range of other business figures who might be drawn more into the Blair circle. Among these are Martin Taylor, the young and extremely bright Eton-educated chief executive of Barclays Bank. Taylor and Blair are of a similar age and both have young children. Expect him to be called in to advise on policy, especially on finance and industry.

Blair has not been slow to woo business figures more often associated with Margaret Thatcher. Chief among these are the media magnates Rupert Murdoch and Sir David English (Associated Newspapers, publishers of the Daily Mail). Less public has been the growing role of the Indian businessman Swraj Paul, who in the Eighties was close to Mrs T.

Bob Bischof, chairman of the Boss group, the forklift truck maker, is another member of the IPPR commission on business, who will provide a view from the world of industry.

Regulation would be one of the main ways in which a Blair government would influence business. In any review of the work of Oftel, Ofgas and the like, expect Dieter Helm, an analyst at Oxford Economic Research Associates, and John Kay, 47, professor at the London Business School and director of the Centre for Business Strategy, to be powerful advocates of reform.

Someone who is working hard at getting in with Blair, with mixed results so far, is Howard Davies, the deputy governor of the Bank of England. His recent criticisms of excessive executive pay rises was widely seen within the party as an attempt to curry favour with the leadership.

Old friends



Any government goes through crises, when a prime minister relies upon wise old friends for advice and guidance. In Harold Wilson's time the role was played by the late Lord Goodman, the lawyer. Lawyers are also likely to figure prominently in a Blair administration.

Chief among the wise old friends is Lord Irvine of Lairg, 55, the Opposition spokeman on legal and home affairs. Irvine has been close to both Blair and his wife, Cherie Booth, since they started out in the law by working in the chambers he headed. Irvine advised Blair during the debate over reform to Clause IV - the nationalisation clause - in the party's constitution. He stood as a Labour candidate in Hendon North in 1970. He is tipped as a possible Lord Chancellor.

Another lawyer likely to seek to be of influence under a Blair regime is the media-friendly campaigning QC Helena Kennedy, chair of Charter 88, the constitutional reform group.

Another old friend, Barry Cox, 53, has known Blair well since their time together in the Hackney South Labour Party. Cox is a special adviser to the chief executive of LWT, the television company, and was pivotal in its successful campaign to retain its franchise. At the end of the year he will take over as head of ITV's network centre.

Cox's house, near the East End's fashionable London Fields park, has been the scene of some crucial party fund-raising meetings. These have involved, among others, Melvyn Bragg, the novelist and broadcaster, and Greg Dyke, now head of the fast-expanding television side of Pearson, the conglomerate that owns the Financial Times. Dyke once stood as a Labour candidate in Putney.

Blair will also call upon friends of long standing within his constituency in Sedgefield, and in Australia.

Someone who perhaps hoped he would become a friend but who is now definitely out is the millionaire author Ken Follett, who as chief Labour luvvie enjoyed a close relationship with both Neil Kinnock and John Smith. Follett has fallen out of favour after photographers turned up outside a private dinner with Blair.


It was under Margaret Thatcher that the original spin doctors - Sir Gordon Reece, Sir Tim Bell and Bernard Ingham - made their name, moving from advising on presentation into policy-making. Blair's team has so many powerful spin doctors, led by his chief confidant, Peter Mandelson, and press secretary, Alistair Campbell, that the party line is in constant motion. That does not mean he won't turn to outsiders for a different view.

The most influential outsider is Philip Gould, 44, who worked closely with Neil Kinnock through his two election defeats in the Eighties. Despite those failures and falling out of favour for a while, Gould is back, in large part because he is the most willing, the most energetic and the most relentlessly optimistic of the unofficial polling and public relations advisers.

Gould is the closest the party gets to one of the pollsters-cum-political advisers employed in US presidential campaigns. Hated by the left and the unions, Gould advised Bill Clinton on his campaign and wrote the notoriously leaked memo to Blair warning that the party was not ready to govern.

Gould is at the centre of a web of PR advisers who got drawn into working with the party in the Eighties through the Shadow Communications Agency, set up by Mandelson when he was head of communications. It includes Barry Delaney, a senior partner at the advertising group Delaney Fletcher Slaymaker Delaney & Bozell. Delaney is sharp, witty and known for forcing the party's leaders to try to identify its unique selling proposition. (He is yet to succeed.)

Christopher Powell, chief executive of the advertising group BMP DDB Needham, is a corporate identity specialist who helped to come up with the Red Rose logo. Powell, a long-standing Labour activist, used to be more left-wing, helping to defend Ken Livingstone's Greater London Council in the Eighties.


Margaret Thatcher was open to ideas from a string of right-wing think-tanks such as the Adam Smith Institute and the Institute for Economic Affairs. Would Prime Minister Tony Blair be similarly open?

Geoff Mulgan, founder of the Demos think-tank, could have a major influence on Blair's thinking in a Labour government. Mulgan, in his early thirties, used to work for Gordon Brown, the Shadow Chancellor, and is still one of Brown's closest advisers. He is one of the left's most creative and productive thinkers, particularly in drawing on diverse intellectual currents in the US such as communitarianism and evolutionary psychology.

Another likely member of a Blair brains trust is Gerald Holtham, 51, director of the Institute of Public Policy Research and former chief economist of Lehman Brothers in the City. He insists that the IPPR is not a Labour think-tank, and he may wish to keep his distance from a Labour government, but the institute may be used to generate debate and ideas, particularly on economics.

Other significant figures in the ideas field: Patricia Hewitt, a former Kinnock aide and parliamentary candidate, now director of research at Arthur Andersen Consulting; David Marquand, one-time SDP leading light who recently rejoined the fold, now professor of politics at Sheffield University; Roger Liddle, another former SDP member, who completed his rehabilitation by co-authoring a book with Peter Mandelson called Can New Labour Deliver? (The answer is yes, apparently.)

Compared with the strength in depth of Blair's spin doctors, the party's relative weakness on the ideas front suggests that a Blair government is unlikely to be radical.