Tony Halmos

December 3, 2007

Tony Halmos is an advisor to Editorial Intelligence and the Director of Public Relations for the Corporation of London. He has been in this post since 1994. From 1987-88 he was Press Secretary to Rt Hon David Steel MP and prior to that, from 1982-88, he held various positions within the Social Democratic Party, ending as National Organiser. He was Educated at Cardiff High School, Wadham College, Oxford and the University of Illinois, USA, and lives in South London.

His work for the Corporation of London concentrates on promoting the City as the “world’s leading international financial centre and Europe’s financial capital.” So Halmos does not look out for the ordinary Londoner — he is more concerned with the interests of, as the Sunday Times put it:

“The exclusive coterie of men who rule the City of London according to conventions laid down in medieval times… at least 21 of the 25 aldermen attended top public schools including Eton, Harrow, Charterhouse, Radley, Haileybury, Rugby and Stowe. They are drawn from some of the most prestigious City names, including Rothschilds and Linklaters & Paines. The City was the only local authority allowed to keep its aldermen when they were abolished elsewhere in 1972. Aldermen wine and dine regularly at the Mansion House, home of the lord mayor of London, and at Guildhall, the official headquarters. They rub shoulders with prime ministers and ministers, not only from Britain, but from abroad. Each alderman gets a turn as lord mayor, for which he is given the use of two Rolls-Royces, travel expenses and the right to live in the Mansion House . There are 230 lunches, dinners and banquets each year at the Mansion House, which has extensive wine cellars and 37 staff.”

Halmos has though, presided over the PR concerning the minute reforms of the system that had been largely unchanged since the 1850s.

He is a council member of Institute of Public Relations’s Corporate and Financial Group and was awarded an IPR Fellowships in May 2002 — the same time as Editorial Intelligence’s Julia Hobsbawm and Dominic Fry.

Halmos took part in a Foreign Policy Centre meeting on UK-EU-China Policy Dialogue at the Treasury, Downing Street and (of course) the Guildhall for yet one more banquet. Speakers included: Sir Michael Butler, Sir David Clementi (Chairman of Prudential), Lord Hannay of Chiswick, Charles Leadbeater, Mark Leonard, Sir Peter Middleton (Chairman of Barclays Bank). Participants included Nick Butler (BP), Peter Mandelson MP, Geoff Mulgan and Will Hutton.

This was part of diplomatic efforts to welcome China with open arms(sales) and which prevented any dissent shown on the streets of London and a Public Diplomacy exercise ignoring past denunciations of the political reality in China. Halmos had previously (1989 –1994) been Associate Director in the Public Affairs section of Hill and Knowlton. His time there included two secondments: one to Hong Kong where he was the Campaign Co-ordinator for the Honour Hong Kong Campaign for full British passports for Hong Kong people (why they didn’t use the slogan ‘only the wealthy were welcome’ is anyone’s guess); and the other to the Water Association where he was public affairs, press and information officer in the run up to privatisation of the industry.

Halmos worked closely with GPC Market Access who, according to a (2000) Brand republic article “covered lobbying and information gathering on local government issues” for the Corporation of London and the article describes the world of EU lobbying:

The British Bankers Association sends ’a regular stream’ of its executives over to Brussels. In addition, it employs PR firm European Public Policy Advisers to collect ’soft intelligence’ – available only to those who are in Brussels, picking up ideas that are floated rather than written down.

Halmos is quoted in connection to the ’ISDN directive’, which “threatened the routine City practice of taping employees’ telephone conversations. Taping is used to help prevent financial fraud such as insider dealing.” And the report also tells us of the creation of “a new City regulator, the Financial Services Authority. It is taking over from the Securities and Investments Board and (to some extent) from the Bank of England.” Other (1998) reports state that Shandwick handled the UK public affairs for the Corporation, and that in 2003 the Corporation re-appointed Weber Shandwick UK with vice-chairman Lord Tom McNally (now leader of the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords) as its public affairs counsellor following a review of its lobbying needs. The re-organisation was overseen Halmos and according to the a (1998) Independent report this was the time when (Editorial Intelligence’s) Colin Byrne was the former Labour head of information under Peter Mandelson. The article explores the merry-go-round of PR people riding along with ‘New Labour’ arms companies and PR outfits:

Michael Craven Was Managing Director of Market Access International, now GPC Market Access. Left last week after a takeover. Worked for John Prescott in the 1980s. MAI clients included arms manufacturers Alvis, Racal and Siemens, leading genetic engineering firms Novartis and Zeneca and the League Against Cruel Sports. Mike Lee Director of Westminster Strategy. Worked for David Blunkett. Other staff include Jo Moore, former Labour press officer, and Howard Dauber, former chair of the Young Fabians. Recent clients include Sema Group UK Ltd, the Chemical Industries Association, the England and Wales Cricket Board and English National Opera. Josh Arnold-Foster Just employed by Politics International. In opposition worked for defence spokesmen Martin O’Neill and David Clark, and also for Bruce George, current chair of the Defence Select Committee. Also worked for Denis Healey and Doug Hoyle, now Lord Hoyle, former Chair of PLP. Recent clients include BP, and Virgin Rail.

Which all seems rather quaint, but all this talk of GPC Market Access, lobbying, ’soft intelligence’ and taping phone calls may remind some readers of Greg Palast’s work. One name missing is Editorial intelligence’s Derek Draper who, from 96-99, was a director of lobbying firm GPC Market Access and who offered the ‘soft intelligence’ that:

“There are 17 people who count in this government, and to say I am intimate with all of them is the understatement of the century.”

A ‘light touch’

Halmos is the author of a Public Affairs News Article entitled London:Sterling work where he describes his role as Director of Public Relations for the Corporation of London and ensuring that the London remains the best place in the world to do business — ‘no questions asked’…there’s another slogan Tony.

Tony’s world was commented upon by his fellow Editorial Intelligence (they prefer e.i. which looks like an inversion of i.e. — sort of ‘is that’) pundit Peter York (known by other names). This was back in 2007 and starts with:

That snowy Thursday, the morning of the e.i/FT/City of London/Cass Business School/British American Project discussion “The City versus Wall Street: Who’s Ahead?” my own newspaper, The Independent, had “Spend, Spend, Spend” as its high-drama cover-line. It was a London story, about the extraordinary order of money that was being earned and spent in the capital. There were billionaires, oligarchs and property prices of course. But above all it was about The City and the life that fed on it. City salaries and bonuses – the £4 bn. being handed out this spring – and the success that underwrote them. The success that meant London, on a number of crucial indices, was moving ahead of New York as the world’s No. 1 international financial centre.

Comment could be made on the role of the British American Project but the essay asks ‘Does London believe it’s own hype?’ and the tone is a bit like a school magazine produced in the 1970s trying to copy the NME:

“Julia Hobsbawm, e.i’s legendarily reclusive founder […] Lionel Barber, the youthful – looking”… and so on, but Tony Halmos’ presentation seemed almost prescient:

Tony Halmos led off, giving a measured view of what had really happened. The recent McKinsey report (commissioned by Mayor Bloomberg we were told) on New York’s financial future had provoked ‘panic on Wall St’ headlines and London clearly was doing well, but don’t let’s go mad. What was really happening was long-term and global, a shift in the centre of gravity as capital markets diversified.

And you can’t get a bigger centre of gravity than a black hole. But this prescient tone fades as York adds:

New York, Halmos continued swiftly, isn’t exactly down-and-out. The Sarbanes-Oxley requirements were certainly a problem compared to our ‘light touch’ regime, but Mayor Bloomberg had treated it as a wake-up call and New Yorkers were pretty responsive types. And there were still challenges for London, particularly our infrastructure and the constant need for a better trained workforce.

Not any more! But it is York who gets the prize for punditry (the science of talking about what you know nothing of): “In London all investment bankers had to do was hold out a bucket to catch the flow of gold.” The gold colored substance filling up their buckets in late 2008 is self produced, but then York’s incontinence yields this sparkling stream: “There was an arcane question – meaning I couldn’t understand it – from a hedge-fund man about regulation.” Yeah man — who’s interested in all that stuff, it doesn’t affect us: the world doesn’t have to make sense, it only has to make money eh? York’s essay also gives us a taste of the general attitudes amongst city people to the lesser beings who inhabit the planet:

Everyone else chorused that it didn’t matter in the least who owned the assets. The tax take from all that activity was huge (does it pay for us to have Birmingham as a pet?)

Expert textpert choking smokers / Don’t you think the joker laughs at you?

In ‘Sterling work‘ written for Public Affairs Magazine, Halmos initially puts the emphasis on all the other things the City of London Corporation does apart from all that lovely money:

it also runs its own police force, and the nation’s Central Criminal Court, the Old Bailey. It provides five Thames bridges, three wholesale food markets (Billingsgate, Spitalfields and Smithfield), the famous Barbican Arts Centre and a host of facilities beyond the City boundaries – for example, open spaces such as Epping Forest and Hampstead Heath.

But two things recur in the essay “regular contact with government” and the notion that ‘legislation’ and ‘regulation’ feature highly and that they ‘work regularly with the mayor’. How on earth could things have gone so wrong with Boris Johnson on the case? Now obviously much fun can be had looking back at all the things Halmos has said and the people he his associated with and the mess they have made of capitalism. But we shall focus on this briefly before moving back to Halmos’ trans-Atlantic links and the networks they reveal.

On December 11, 2007, U.S. Treasury Assistant Secretary for Financial Institutions David G. Nason gave a talk before the City of London Corporation called “Redesigning U.S. Financial Regulation for a Global Marketplace,” this was prefaced by the acknowledgement that two months before in New York City, U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson, Jr. met with City of London officials, Policy and Resources Committee Chairman Michael Snyder, Assistant Director of Economic Development Paul Sizeland, and Director of Public Relations Tony Halmos, and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to discuss the global competitiveness of the financial services industry. This began with the opening remark that:

“A common theme in my remarks today is that capital markets are no longer confined to geographical or national boundaries.”

That type of statement is meaningless given that both British and American banks claim such a confined nationality for the purposes of being bailed out. The talk did highlight what most commentators already knew:

A housing market correction, rooted in an eight-year period of exceptional housing price appreciation, remains the most serious risk to future economic growth.

But adds this, note the middle sentence:

Our efforts will not be designed to assist speculators who acquired real estate for investment purposes. We must endeavor to avoid bailing out lenders and investors, who should recognize the value of these impaired mortgages and should not expect government assistance in these commercial transactions. Lastly, the government should not subject lenders and investors to abrogation of bargained-for contractual rights.

It talked directly of the sub-prime scam adding that “a set of guidelines to streamline the process of refinancing and modifying subprime loans for able homeowners […] estimates up to 1.2 million subprime adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) borrowers will be eligible for fast-tracking into affordable refinanced or modified mortgages under this streamlined approach.” At this point the borrowers and lenders were the little people and a “market-based approach” seemed a perfectly reasonable way the keep the shuck alive:

The issues in the mortgage market highlight the challenges we as policymakers see with the constant evolution and innovations in our global capital markets. On the one hand, the complexity of the global and securitized mortgage market made it more difficult for the private sector to help homeowners modify their mortgages. On the other hand, this financial innovation increased access to credit and brought the dream of homeownership to a greater number of people than ever. Capable borrowers with less-than-perfect credit histories found opportunity through the ingenuity of our capital markets. So we must be careful that any response to this situation does not unnecessarily harm those borrowers or stifle beneficial financial innovation.

Sub-prime, securitization and the other black box scams being ‘financial innovation’, as for regulation the speaker was for it, indeed felt it had been done sufficiently:

…Secretary Paulson has asked the Treasury Department to undertake a comprehensive review of financial institutions regulation and to develop recommendations to modernize our regulatory system. We expect this review to be complete by early next year.

So the market collapse we see now in late 2008 is after the regulation has happened. For (the Assistant Secretary for Financial Institutions) David G. Nason the working assumption is that “in this new globalized marketplace, we are engaged in a race-to-the-top, to achieve the optimal regulatory structure for the financial services industry.” he even says “we are witnessing the evolution and testing of various regulatory structures for the financial services sector”. He provides the New Labour example of “separating bank supervision and monetary policy and consolidating financial services supervision under the umbrella of a single regulator” as an example of this evolution.

Halmos is of course only involved in PR and that does not involve actually selling people something they don’t want — well it does but the point is that is at a remove, it is about greasing the wheels for others to sell things (that people do not want) and image, reputation, persuasion and negotiation. And it is hard work — not everyone can skillfully manage an expense account. Guto Harri, a former BBC Chief Political Correspondent, recently appointed Communications Director (or spin doctor) for the Mayor of London Boris Johnson’s administration at London City Hall, was taken to lunch by Halmos on 17/07/2008 at Magdalen in Tooley Street, according to his Gifts and hospitality register. This is astounding —normally he is taken to the Gaucho, Tower Bridge. Harri had a brief stint at public affairs firm Fleishman-Hillard beforehand and is another example of the interchangeable merry-go-round of independent journalists/PR/spin doctors that provide the spectacle of ‘news’ that the public has to put up with. Nevertheless for those using the web to go beyond these confines “Lunch” and “Tony Halmos” is a reasonably good search term for finding out what PR for the Corporation entails. But what might the two be discussing privately away from the public they serve — if you forgive the pun —we are left in the realm of speculation but a little while later a few details started to leak out to the press about The City of London Corporation’s pledge of £200million funding for Crossrail project, and to lead efforts to raise another £150million from business by 2016. It has underwritten £50 million of these extra funds but £100 million remains unguaranteed. A post Magdalen-lunch Evening Standard report of 07/08/08 stated:

“Private contributions could be unforthcoming if London sees a crash.” But Tony Halmos, the corporation’s director of public relations, said he was confident of bringing in the funds.

£3.5 billion is to be raised from a special levy on London businesses, £2.7billion to be borrowed on the back of future rail fares and £ 5.1billion from the Government. Interestingly Halmos seems to have led the reform of the voting system in the City.

The Times in their ‘Court & Social section’ tell us he is associated with the Pilgrim Society of the United States and the English-Speaking Union. The Pilgrims Society has puzzled researchers and has been around for quite some time, establishing ‘Atlanticist’ links. On the one hand it is presented as an informal innocent gathering for simple chat and for others part of a sub-culture stemming from Cecil Rhodes’ Milner Round Table Group. Some of the material which surrounds its description is Illuminati-obsessed conspiracy theory, but there are a few interesting (and quite conspiratorial) characters involved in the English Speaking Union who point to the idea that much of Atlanticism seems to operate covertly (and here it may be useful to remind the reader that Halmos was the Social Democratic Party’s National Organiser):

Joseph Godson, in an active retirement, was also organizing European initiatives for the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), the proselytising think-tank which funded the author of the SDP/Liberals joint policy statement in 987[sic]. He combined that with running US government-funded educational visits for British trade unionists and editing 35 Years of NATO (Dodd, Mead, 1984) a transatlantic symposium on ‘the changing political, economic and military setting’, funded by Rupert Murdoch’s Times and introduced by its then editor Charles Douglas- Home and NATO secretary general Peter Carrington. Godson’s foremost British associate in this CSIS/NATO work was SDP founder member Alan Lee Williams, a former Labour MP and junior defence minister who was treasurer of the European Movement from 1972 and 1979. From his office as director of the English Speaking Union he had chaired Godson’s Labour and Trade Union Press Service operation and, with the renewed rise of CND in the late 1970s, had become a central figure in the government-funded Peace Through NATO.

The source for this seems to be Tom Easton’s Who were they travelling with? From Lobster 31, from my perspective Godson’s and Alan Lee Williams’ activities looks like part of David Abshire’s public diplomacy operation ‘Project Democracy’. Abshire was Special Counselor to President Reagan and the U.S. Ambassador to NATO (1983-1987) and founded the Center for Strategic and International Studies in 1962. Halmos also worked as an assistant organiser “of organisation and industrial relations” for the TUC in 1978, before joining Hill & Knowlton in 1989-94 via the SDP which he joined in 1982 as National organiser and local government officer. Would this have been of interest to Lee Williams and Godson? Halmos is a Committee member of the The Jamestown 2007 British Committee, along with Lord Carrington the former Secretary-General of NATO mentioned above. Other Jamestown members are Robert H. Tuttle, United States Ambassador to the Court of St James’s, Lord Watson the Chairman of Burson Marsteller Europe, Michael Macy Cultural Affairs Officer, Embassy of the United States, Lord Powell, Simon Walker Director of Corporate Affairs at Reuters Group formerly Communications Secretary to the Queen, Lord Williamson formerly Secretary General of the European Commission, now head of the European Secretariat in the British Cabinet Office, Sir Robert Worcester the Founder of MORI and Chairman of the Pilgrim Society.

But what is the Pilgrims Society? What is its relation to The English-Speaking Union (ESU) and other groups such as The Jamestown Committee, at first we see much the same people and a high level of funding from the US Embassay and The British-American Parliamentary Group, The Jamestown committee is also funded by the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation which receives generous funding from Northrop Grumman — the “leading provider of government information technology systems and mission-critical systems for the Department of Defense and the intelligence community.” the Foundation also organises high-level conferences such as the Forum on the Future of Democracy, which featured former Presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton and former Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair.

The The English-Speaking Union (ESU) is, according to its website, an international charity founded in 1918 to promote “international understanding and friendship through the use of the English language.” Its its ‘headquarters’, are at Dartmouth House, and it is led by the Director-General Mrs Valerie Mitchell.

The ESU conforms to a basic public diplomacy pattern — organising exchanges mostly of a trans-Atlantic nature with some sort of social Darwinism at its root, an overwhelmingly elite orientation, partnerships with corporate members, sponsors government and some form of interface with the secret service (now increasingly openly), and a Jesuitical focus on the young. It should be pointed out that the type of ‘English’ they are talking about is not the language most people in the UK speak—it is that which pronounces ‘The Rolling Stones’ as “The Railing Stains”. When explaining itself to ‘Johnny Foreigner’ it harks back to the memory of some golden age of Empire:

The English-Speaking Union was launched at the end of the First World War with the aim of promoting closer ties between the English Speaking peoples. It was founded by Sir Evelyn Wrench and one of its first Chairman was Sir Winston Churchill whose own command of English changed the course of history.

The same source tells us that the ESU has been graced by such masters of clarity of language as: The Hon Ronald Reagan, The Hon Dr Henry Kissinger and although it tries to ally itself to all this ponderous greatness with actual activities such as “the coveted silver National Mooting Competition Mace” the more suitable analogy would be Monty Pythons. Its work is some remnant of empire, clutching at the commonwealth with those outside of London-based power structures who act as satellites providing most of the comedy. The Scottish wing of the organisation provides biographies of its members and speakers: Sir John Bond — Chairman of Vodafone Group Plc and a non-executive director of Ford Motor Company and David Crystal, a professor of language whose web site’s ‘The Fight for English‘, seems to bristle with envy over the success of Lynee Truss’ ‘Eats Shoots and Leaves”:

“but does reading a usage manual help, if you have some language difficulties? the sad fact is: not much.”

That is fine as far as it goes by Crystal is the author of stacks of these books and his web site still punts them the latest being ‘A dictionary of linguistics and phonetics’, does that say on the dust jacket “not much use” . Other members include Sir Richard Billing Dearlove KCMG, OBE: known (or rather unknown) as ‘C’ (in memory of Mansfield Cumming) of the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) until his retirement in July 2004. As Director of Finance, Administration and Personnel he also oversaw the move of SIS into its Headquarter Building at Vauxhall Cross in 1994— no one really knows how much that cost. ‘C’ recently took up the Mastership of Pembroke College Cambridge and was a member of the International Advisory Board of AIG and senior Adviser to the Monitor Group where he made a bigger mess of things than the costs of Vauxhall Cross. The SIS connection is enhanced by Sir Christopher Meyer and The Rt. Hon. Lord Robertson and Baroness Smith of Gilmorehill, Sir David Green KCMG was appointed Director General of the British Council in July 1999 now part of Wilton Park.

other ESU governors are The Lord Watson of Richmond CBE Chairman of CTN (Corporate Television Networks) and Chairman of the Coca-Cola European Advisory Board and connects the Pilgrims Society to the ESU, and the same could be said of Sir Robert Worcester, a Governor of the English Speaking Union, is the Founder of MORI, Ditchley Foundation, a member of the Media Standards Trust and of the European Atlantic Group — Anthony Westnedge OBE of the European Atlantic Group is also a member of ESU.

Good journalism
If he is to be believed Halmos, as Director of Public Relations at City of London Corporation, along with Canary Wharf plc, sponsored the 2008 Journalism Summer School, the reason being that:

“This summer school encourages new journalists and good journalism. Journalists provide a vital source of independent information. It’s what they publish and broadcast which informs the public about the world around them and enables them to play the role of active participants in democratic life.”

According to the site that promotes it, the Journalism Summer School:

was initiated by online magazine, spiked, in 2006, and is run by Journalism Education, a not-for-profit company. It was set up in response to a Times Higher Educational Supplement and Sutton Trust report which demonstrated the inequality in the media today. It showed that while 7% of the population is educated privately, 50% of top journalists working in the UK went to private school; very few were educated at state comprehensives.

The Times was the media partner and media organisations that held workshops or tours were given as: Spiked, the News of the World, the Sunday Times, Thomson Reuters, BBC, Sky and Closer magazine. The “high-profile figures in the media, who all participated on a voluntary basis” included: Tony Evans, Football Editor, The Times, Cosmo Landesman, Film Critic, The Sunday Times, Dean Piper, Entertainment Editor, Closer magazine and Richard Lawson, Award-winning Broadcast Journalist, BBC World Service. Other sources say thatthe people involved were Daniel Finkelstein, comment editor of the Times; Hannah Perry, new editor of Heat; Jenny Davey, business contributor of The Sunday Times; and Nick Davis, community affairs reporter at Radio Five Live.

‘Spiked’ is part of the ‘Institute of Ideas’ and operates out of Living Marxism’s old offices in Farringdon Road in London. ‘LM’, was a reincarnation of Living Marxism, the monthly review of the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP). A number of incongruities emerge here and some readers may feel that the City of London Corporation working along with the Revolutionary Communist Party’s remnants may not be conducive to Public Relations at its best in these trying times; or that the News of the World and Closer magazine are not that interested in “good journalism”, “independent information” or active participation in “democratic life”, they might percieve other more over-riding agendas dictating to these publications and the Murdoch empire.

The idea behind the project is that state school pupils come to Canary Wharf “to learn the art of journalism in a bid to “redress the class balance” in the profession” and the lucky winners get to write for ‘spiked’.

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