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Smith Square Review – Friday 8th September

For whom the Bell tolls

It would be wrong of us to speak ill of a fellow PRCA member, but they’re not any more so we feel we can once again highlight this week’s ‘interesting’ interview on Newsnight.

Lord Bell, the original ‘King of Spin’, poured a significant amount of petrol over the dumpster fire that is Bell Pottinger’s current predicament. Whether he intended to help or hinder the notorious PR firm’s situation we can’t possibly say. But what he did do was highlight the systemic issues with the way they had handled their South African account, and claim it was “curtains” for the company he co-founded more than 30 years ago.

During his interview with Newsnight’s Kirsty Wark he gave an object lesson in what-not-to-do in an interview. During contradictory answers, his mobile phone went off not once, but twice. Showing the caller screen to Kirsty, we were all left guessing who could possibly be on the line? A frantic press officer? The soon to resign Bell Pot CEO? Dominos Pizza, as Kirsty later (we assume tongue-in-cheek) claimed on twitter? Perhaps we’ll never know.

On an entirely unrelated note, if you’re looking for a responsible, professional PR & Public Affairs agency, do give us a call on 0203 267 0074.


You can’t always get what EU want

Recess has done nothing but stir the pot on the UK’s divorce from the EU. Parliament, though it may only be freshly back in session, is well and truly stewed, and the Government may struggle to get a passable EU Withdrawal Bill before the Party Conference break.

In a bewildering yet-and-at-the-same-time utterly predictable reversal of position, Labour MPs now face a three-line whip to oppose the bill, the second reading of which began yesterday. On the other hand, a cohort of Conservative backbenchers, Europhile and Eurosceptic alike, want to force divergent concessions on the bill. Add to the mix Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom’s motion that “the Government shall have a majority” on standing committees and the subsequent Labour backlash – “an unprecedented attempt to rig Parliament,” said Jeremy Corbyn – and you have yourself a fast collapsing cake, neither had, nor eaten.

Brexit Secretary David Davis and opposite number Sir Keir Starmer had it out, the latter attacking “the great power grab bill” on the basis that it would give Government ministers similar powers to Henry VIII (that old chestnut). But will the Shadow Brexit Secretary’s argument convince Labour MPs to toe the line and vote against? Whereas earlier this year those with Remainer voters were whipped to see the bill through Parliament, Sir Veer’s recent pronouncements of a friendly Labour stance on freedom of movement, the single market and the customs union have put the shEU on the other foot. MPs with Leaver constituents are now being made to sweat and could rebel too.

But let us consider- if Labour, the SNP and Lib Dems unanimously vote against, it would take just 6 Tory rebels to spell defeat for the bill. The votes of 10 DUP MPs – Theresa May’s one, somewhat diminutive trump card – will not cut it where there is a party split. The PM may be eating, not cake, but pie come this time next week.


Lost control of border policy

In other news, the Government has (allegedly) leaked perhaps the most controversial piece of post-Brexit policy it possibly could, the timing of which (prior to the EU Withdrawal Bill’s second reading) is about as coincidental as a hand next to a smoking gun. 

The Home Office document (an 82-pager) sets out how the UK will impose strict immigration control. Although it extends freedom of movement for at least two years, after the expiration date, only the highest-skilled EU migrants will be able make it through our borders. A possibly troubling indicator of the Government’s direction on the single market, it has sent a seismic shock through businesses, unions, and universities, not to mention MPs’ offices, and the Cabinet itself.

A pragmatic Brexiteer, it is common knowledge that the Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond wants a business-friendly transition. Yet this leak has thrown into question his say on the matter, and prompted EU leaders to quote anti-discrimination laws. Some commentators have postured that the intention was to force the Cabinet’s hand – to row back on such a pivotal policy now would make life (even) more difficult for ministers, particularly ahead of Thursday’s debate, and party conference.


Souvenir of the week

It’s easy for politicians to get weighed down in tit-for-tat, and all the more important to keep a sense of perspective and focus on the big issues at hand.

So we are pleased that Leader of the Opposition Jeremy Corbyn was able to put the time aside to debunk rumours of a vegan converson, and to host the GQ awards this year. Will Stormzy be hosting the Labour party conference?