‘Satan’s Little Helpers’ (4) ComRes — Communicate Research

But what of that other survey company Baillie talked to, ComResAndrew Hawkins, its Chief Executive is a qualified barrister, who worked for public affairs consultancies in Brussels and London: clients included the Conservative Party, ITN, Sunday Times and The Independent.[1] In 1996 Hawkins was Campaigns Director for the London Chamber of Commerce & Industry where, according to ComRes, he played a key role in influencing the reform of London’s governance for the business community.[2]

Despite the lobbyists close connection to the Press as an outlet for their message, even using a Nexis search there is no evidence of the mainstream media contextualising who ComRes are.[3] One possible exception to the lack of information on lobbying is Iain Dale’s comment on a Hawkin’s open letter to Danny Finkelstein about polling and its place within the news agenda:

I remember going to a post election conference after the 2001 election when there was a massive falling out between three of the country’s leading pollsters. I have rarely seen such viciousness and complete loathing between political professionals.[4]

ComRes states it maintains the largest survey research panel of MPs ever created (230 MPs) and the only survey research panel of the House of Lords (170 Peers) while being pollsters to the Independent on Sunday and working for the Industry and Parliament Trust (IPT).[5] The IPT meet in the Members Dining Room of the House of Commons, and each MP has IPT Fellowship Partner from the world of big business, for example: The Rt. Hon. James Arbuthnot, Conservative has British American Tobacco; The Rt. Hon. John Battle, Labour, The Royal Bank of Scotland plc; Anne Begg, Labour, Chevron UK Ltd; The Rt.Hon. David Blunkett, Labour, British Telecommunications plc; Barbara Follett, Labour, Tesco Stores Ltd; Eric Joyce, Labour, ExxonMobil; Dr Denis MacShane,  Labour, Lloyds TSB Group; John McFall,  Labour, The Royal Bank of Scotland plc; Rosemary McKenna CBE, Labour, The Royal Bank of Scotland; Jacqui Smith,  Labour, Mars Confectionery; Stephen Timms,  Labour, EMAP plc which we have mentioned earlier concerning Rita Clifton.

The IPT are also responsible for a similar gathering with the MP/Civil Servant Attachment Programme, the equivalent in Scotland is the Scottish Parliament Business Exchange.

Over the years ComRes’ Andrew Hawkins has gone on record with some confusing statements concerning politician’s opinions on lobbyists, recently he expressed the opinion that:

MPs have a more positive view of lobbyists than some people might think. They are regarded as part of the software for running the machinery of government, improving the quality of communication with legislators and representing a client resource which is usually well spent.[6]

Some ten years earlier he argued:

…that many Labour MPs retain their deep suspicion of lobbyists — and who can blame them when the ranks of lobbyists in the 1980s were swelled by people leaving Tory political service to seek their fortune in the myriad of new companies which mushroomed in Westminster?[7]

Hawkins track record is a good example of the growth of lobbying and the operating links between the various arms of Satan’s little helpers and the interplay between them.  He began his career at GPC forerunner Market Access in Brussels and London before joining Harris Research’s political research unit in 1994.[8] In 1993 lobby firm Market Access International formed a holding company for investing in public affairs and associated communications companies across the world. The holding company, the European Political Consulting Group owned the Market Access companies, and David Boddy, a former senior staff member of the Conservative Party[9] headed the Group which included Connect Public Affairs.  Hawkin’s role within the group was with market research company Access Opinions.[10]

GPC was, of course, later at the centre of the ‘Lobbygate’ or ‘Cash for Access’ scandal.[11] In the wake of Greg Palast’s Observer expose, public affairs trade body the Association of Professional Political Consultants suspended GPC and the lobbying firm GJW; another, LLM, which was accused of boasting of its success in lobbying for Tesco against a since-abandoned parking tax scheme, was not an Association member at the time, and so no action was taken and the matter brushed under the carpet.[12] Palast’s main findings rested on two key discoveries: that members of the Government passed sensitive, confidential information to key lobbyists and did so systematically; and that members of the Government established a system of privileged access for industry clients of connected lobbyists. This was (and still is) related to the Government’s system of secretive, selective information leakage which is making government policy systemically undemocratic and open to influence away from public scrutiny.

Hawkins, via Access Opinions, carried out research side of things including work for outside PR firms, some of whom had been sceptical of Access Opinions independence from Market Access.[13] We can see this illusion in Hawkin’s claim in the early 1990s (when Ian Greer’s methods were at their height) that “Lobbyists are gaining credibility and 90% of Conservative MPs believe they provide a useful bridge between companies and MPs.” These ‘facts’ were revealed in a survey from Hawkin’s Access Opinions commissioned by its sister lobbying company Market Access International and supposedly reflected the views of an all-party panel of 100 Members of Parliament.[14]

Ironically for Hawkins back then, lobbying was all about “managing illusions.”[15] Part of this involves the interpenetration of research/lobbying/PR groups he was involved with. Hawkins alludes to this in a statement on lobbying and market research: “the measurement and management of illusions go hand in hand. Public affairs and market research must learn to work together to grasp the opportunities,” and we might add: in managing the illusions of democracy.[16]

We will come back to Hawkin’s views later, let us first examine another director.

 

Greig Baker, ComRes’ Research Director is said to have previously been a member of the Conservative Shadow Defence and Foreign Affairs research and advisory teams with responsibilities included speech writing, policy analysis and policy research, he is also said to have taken part in the US State Department’s International Leaders Program, and to have served in the British Army’s Military Intelligence Corps,[17] a TA section specialising in human intelligence, debriefing and interview techniques.[18]

The type of advice Baker might have offered to the Shadow Defence team can be related to work he has written at the behest of the UK Defence Forum (UKDF), a lobby group from which we will quote below.  This a shockingly tendentious analysis, where Baker extends the amalgamation of the public and private sectors adopted by the British government to justify and encourage the use of mercenaries or Private Military Companies (PMCs) to start and profit from war.  The UKDF contains at least two members who operate such companies.  Baker celebrates the victories for the PR world (‘previous efforts to create legal frameworks to regulate military contractors have been consistently unsuccessful’) in encouraging war mongering:  the PMCs need a war to make a profit so here Baker offers a helpful expedient suggestion to encourage business opportunites, arguing:

Theoretically, a democratic government could even go as far as to avoid the controversy of declaring war in the first place, simply by allowing a national department, slightly removed from Defence (DfID, in the British system, for instance),  to issue contracts to PMCs. Currently, the exclusive deployment of PMCs would  obviously be restricted to small scale operations, but as the market for PMCs encourages a growth in supply, it is feasible that PMCs could undertake more  sizeable missions almost independent of recognised national forces.

In fact, regardless of any failings, PMCs have frequently had notable successes in  recent years because of their less restrained approach to frontline duties (not having  to accommodate ‘embedded journalists’, for example) and mission achievement  (Executive Outcomes’ actions in Africa are testimony to ‘getting the job done’ with  little time for sensibilities). Even in more minor roles, private contractors have been essential to the smooth running of the service support arm of many national forces in modern conflicts. This role is truly essential — and if one considers the difficulty NATO countries have had in deploying additional troops to Afghanistan, one can see why help from any quarter is almost always welcome — and allows national governments to cling to their goal of satisfying their armed forces’ existing commitments both at home and abroad.[19]

It seems to have escaped the notice of Baker that there is nothing stopping a PMC receiving money from and working for practically anyone: the UK’s enemies or terrorist groups for example.  To paraphrase Clausewitz here, war is commerce by other means not diplomacy.

Comres conducted a (2008) poll for another defence lobby, the United Kingdom National Defence Association (UKNDA) with Baker as the organiser of their campaign.[20] Before moving on we will note that the UK Defence Forum’s Robin Ashby’s lobbying activities attracted some adverse attention,[21] one example being the Independent’s exposure of Ashby as a war lobbyist in Parliament with the headline quote: “We’ll ask the questions that you can’t, without your fingerprints.”[22] Ashby’s firm, Bergmans, lobbies on behalf of more than a dozen large defence and aerospace companies (including using the UK Defence Forum) such as BAE Systems, Northern Defence Industries, Boeing and Rolls-Royce.

According to the report, Ashby used a pass, allotted to Baroness Harris of Richmond, to access the House of Commons library, which offers valuable research facilities at no cost. Harris received a “regular” income from a separate company run by Ashby, the Great North News Service, for which Baroness Harris acted as an “adviser,” according to her parliamentary declaration of financial interests. Her “researcher” gains access to the Palace of Westminster’s corridors of power and a string of top-level ministers.

Lionel Zetter, another ComRes director, who failed to be elected as a Conservative MP,[23] became the author of ‘The Political Campaigning Handbook’ and ‘Lobbying— the art of political persuasion’. The core of the book covers Westminster and Whitehall, and describes in detail how to lobby the civil service, the political parties, the House of Commons and the House of Lords, the Scottish Parliament, regulators and think tanks.  Part three covers the ‘tools of the lobbying trade’ including monitoring and intelligence, and also covers ‘polling, relationship management, online campaigning, building coalitions, and using the media.’[24]

Here again we see another reference to this linked assemblage of companies who seek to control the propaganda cycle using polls and surveys etc. as the components of this.  In connection to this we could note that Zetter is also managing director of Parliamentary Monitoring Services Ltd (PMS),[25] this “provides monitoring and research services on a confidential basis to public relations and public affairs consultancies, companies, charities, trade associations, quangos, and diplomatic missions.”[26] Many public affairs and PR agencies use the PMS service. As well as the Lords and Commons, PMS also monitors Whitehall departments, political parties, think tanks, pressure groups, executive agencies and quangos.[27] The Times and other newspapers offered another familiar “cash-for-access” story mentioning PMS:

Lord Howie of Troon, a Labour peer, gives a pass to Doug Smith, a veteran Westminster lobbyist who is chairman of Westminster Advisers, whose clients include French multinationals Sodexho and Accor. Until January 2006 Mr Smith was chairman of Parliamentary Monitoring Services. Lord Howie receives “regular remunerated employment” from Parliamentary Monitoring Services. Yesterday Lord Howie refused to say how much he was paid, and said that Mr Smith deserved a pass because he provided him with information, particularly on construction and publishing. Asked if the payments posed a potential for conflict of interest, he replied: “Only in the eyes of a nosey parker.”[28]

PMG was also found to be part of revelations concerning how the independence of all-party groups was ‘compromised by commercial interests.’[29]

Zetter is a non-executive deputy chairman of Dods Parliamentary Communications Ltd, this provides “reference information to the large number of officials drafting parliamentary answers.”[30] A rough calculation, and a conservative estimate made in the early 1990s, put a figure of £5 million in consultancy fees paid into the House of Commons each year. That did not include directorships, travel concessions or shareholdings.[31]

Zetter is a former chairman of the Government Affairs Group[32] and maintains his close connections with Conservative Central Office,[33] and he helps run the Enterprise Forum, which has the motto ‘Bringing Business closer to Politics’, and whose executive and management are all part of the Conservative Party including MPs and Lords,[34] and they state:

The Enterprise Forum is your link with the Conservative party. Through our programme, we provide a two-way channel of communication, an independent middle ground where you can meet, debate and build relationships with key conservative policy makers, and network with other industry professionals.[35]

And indeed Andrew Hawkins of ComRes also speaks at their gatherings.[36] We will now return to Hawkins and his remarks concerning the survey/lobby, but note the reliance by Zetter on personal contact here, and recall Hawkin’s remarks on lobbying in the 1990s.

NEXT SECTION


[1] None of the pollsters managed to predict the Conservative win in 1992, see: Rob Sharp, 2010, IndependentExtra, February 15, this also notes that most of the pollsters use a 1000 person sample, via phone interviews.  The results are then converted into seats in the House of Commons by a somewhat mysterious process.

[2] http://www.comres.co.uk/management.aspx

[3]Incidences of the use of ComRes in the mainstream media, since their formation, based on a Nexis search is: The Independent (122), The Mirror and The Sunday Mirror, (72), Independent on Sunday (68), Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday (58), The Express (52), The Daily Telegraph (38), The Guardian (35), The Times (33), News International Newspapers Information Services Ltd. (23), The Sunday Times (16), The Sunday Express (14), The Observer (8), The Express Newspapers (6), The Sunday Telegraph (6), The Business (1).  None of these explain anything about the nature of the company.

One of the journalists who draws the most frequently on ComRes’ material is Andrew Grice, with typical headlines such as “Brown ‘is as much to blame for conflict’”, The Independent, 2010, February 3.  ComRes poll for a range of organizations such as The Independent, or for BBC’s Panorama; and ComRes are used to make flat out assertions such as “The British people support some restrictions on wearing the burka in public but oppose an outright ban…” Andrew Grice, 2010, ‘Poll shows Britons back limited curbs on the veil’, The Independent, February 1.

[4]See: Iain Dale’s Diary, 2009, June 11, http://iaindale.blogspot.com/2009/06/when-pollsters-fall-out.html.

[5] http://www.ipt.org.uk/OneStopCMS/Core/CrawlerResourceServer.aspx?resource=0D0AC2E2-E6AC-4FE7-BF36-7FD053DC596E&mode=link&guid=987d6e1bb60242c8947e0129dc53ada6

[6] PR Week, 2006, October 27.

[7] PR Week, 1995, September 8.

[8] PR Week, 2001, May 11. City ‘watchdog’ the Securities and Investment Board had employed Market Access as a lobbyist until caught up in the ‘mis-selling’ of personal pensions and so forth (see: PR Week, 1994, September 9).

[9]Steve Lohr, 1989, ‘Battle for Plessey Is Put on Hold,’ New York Times, January 13.

[10] PR Week, 1993, November 4. Prima Europe eventually also became part of GPC (see: Ian Darby, 1998, PR Week UK, 6 March) which was also owned by Omnicom.

[11] http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/128931.stm

[12] PR Week, 2003, April 18.

[13] PR Week, 1993, November 4.

[14] PR Week, 1993, April 15.

[15] PR Week, 1995, September 8.

[16] PR Week, 1995, September 8.

[17] http://www.comres.co.uk/management.aspx

[18] http://www.comknow.co.uk/page12864722.aspx

[19] http://www.ukdf.org.uk/assets/downloads/gr136.pdf  Other UKDF papers include one on Iran’s nuclear weapons http://www.ukdf.org.uk/assets/downloads/gr138.pdf  In one sense this is the standard lobby group tactic of asking for some much, and stretching possibilities to such an extent, that it normalises some half-way measure.

[20] http://www.uknda.org/defence_is_now_an_election_issue_-_poll_reveals/n-158.html This also seems to have involved Edelman, see: http://www.edelman.co.uk/case-studies/national-defence-association-uknda

[21] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/politics/labour/4348729/Labour-peers-Robin-Ashby-profile.html

[22] James Macintyre, 2008,  ‘We’ll ask the questions that you can’t, without your fingerprints,’ he tells clients, Independent, 26 June.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/exposed-the-arms-lobbyist-in-parliament-854313.html

[23] When he was chairman of the Enfield Southgate Conservative Association, Zetter was caught up in the ‘Burgergate’ row, fending off the hostile reaction over plans to turn their headquarters into a McDonald’s restaurant.  It had been masterminded by Geoffrey Tucker, a lobbyist hired to promote the McDonald’s cause in Whitehall. Suspicions were voiced that the McDonald’s bid was effectively a political donation, see: The Times, 1996, August 15, and http://www.mcspotlight.org/campaigns/thisweek/jul3.html

[24] http://www.ciprgag.org.uk/content/6/Committee-Members/default.aspx

http://www.harriman-house.com/pages/book.htm?BookCode=256756

[25] PMS was based in the lobbyist’s haven of Tufton Street and its issues of a ‘Parliamentary companion for the UK and EC’ had a foreword by the Chancellor of the Exchequer (see: PR Newswire Europe, 1990, January 18). The Times,1993, August 7, noted that PMS took John Major, then PM, to cricket games. Their 29 Tufton St. address was also that of the Conservative Group For Europe, Centre For European Reform, other groups in the street include The Adam Smith Institute, the Social Market Foundation and the Centre for Policy Studies.

[26] http://investing.businessweek.com/research/stocks/private/snapshot.asp?privcapId=28368753

[27] PR Week, 1999, October 29.

[28] Sam Coates, 2007, ‘Cash for peers’ The Times, July 17.

[29] Dean Nelson & Jonathan Calvert, 1995, ‘When Lobbyists Push Against An Open Door’, The Observer, September 17.

[30] http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200102/cmhansrd/vo020617/text/20617w27.htm

[31] PR Week, 1993, January 28.

[32] http://www.ciprgag.org.uk/content/6/Committee-Members/default.aspx This also has ties to the arms industry, note Simon Astley, Director of Parliamentary Relations for BAE Systems and responsible for the company’s UK public affairs activity.

[33] http://www.harriman-house.com/pages/authors.htm?Index=9621&Author=Lionel_Zetter

[34] http://www.enterprise-forum.co.uk/LionelZetter.html

[35] http://www.enterprise-forum.co.uk/

[36] http://www.enterprise-forum.co.uk/programme.asp

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