Leith Communications

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Leith communications was a PR firm based in Edinburgh set up in 1986 by Brian Monteith and his wife Shirley.[1] The former Federation of Conservative Students leader and latterly Conservative MSP in the Scottish Parliament from 1999-2007, Monteith had a history of libertarian Conservative politics associated with the radicalisation of the Federation of Conservative Students which Monteith chaired in the 1980s. His PR firm was created when he returned to Scotland from a three year sojurn in London where he worked with the neoliberal think tank the Centre for Policy Studies and was recruited into PR by his flatmate and fellow Tory activist Michael Forsyth. Leith took on public sector and private sector clients but were most well known for their work with conservative clients including the Scottish Conservative Party and it was this, ironically, that played a key role in the decline and fall of the agency which went bust and was dissolved on 12 April 1995. With 'debts of more than £53,000', there was 'a queue of angry creditors' who 'didn't get a penny of the money owed to them. They included the state which was due thousands in tax.'

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PR in action

The agency was tied to the Conservative Party - or more precisely - to the radical Thatcherite wing associated in particular with Michael Forsyth and became involved in the internal feuding in the party:

Severe turbulence among the Scottish Tories after their poor showing in the election of 1987 led to the resignation in 1989 of Sir Matthew Goodwin as Scottish party treasurer. This is disclosed in The Hollow Drum, a personal history of Scotland since the Second World War by Arnold Kemp, published this week. The book underlines the impatience with Scotland and Scottish Secretary Malcolm Rikfind felt by Mrs (now Lady) Thatcher, described in her memoirs published yesterday. She saw in her Scottish problems the beginning of her own political demise. The Hollow Drum also discloses that Mr Rifkind had an interview with Mrs Thatcher in 1990, during which he demanded the resignation of Mr Michael Forsyth as party chairman in Scotland.
Mr Forsyth had been appointed by Mrs Thatcher against Mr Rifkind's advice and had been given the mission to "Thatcherise" Scotland, even if he were opposed by the Tory Old Guard -- whose habits of consensualism were blamed for Tory difficulties north of the Border. A period of great internal stress followed and a broad-based Tory coalition emerged to smash Mr Forsyth's grip on the Scottish party. Eventually Lord Whitelaw and Lord Younger supported Mr Rifkind's growing conviction that Mr Forsyth's disloyalty to him as Secretary of State made the position untenable. All three made their feelings clear to Mrs Thatcher. But not until the Scottish Business Group, through the mediation of Lord Goold, had indicated that the tensions were affecting fund-raising did she finally accept Mr Forsyth's resignation from the chairmanship. She infuriated his opponents, and marked her displeasure with them, by simultaneously promoting him to Minister of State at the Scottish Office. He now has the same rank at the Department of Employment.
Sir Matthew, a leading Scottish industrialist and long-serving Tory loyalist, decided to stand down after Mr Forsyth failed to pass on to him a cheque, for £35,000. The cheque was the culmination of a fund-raising campaign led by the philanthropist Dr Alexander Stone with the assistance of Professor Ross Harper, both active in the party's voluntary wing. It was presented at a party in Dr Stone's house in Glasgow at which Mr Rifkind was guest of honour. Dr Stone regretted afterwards that he had been the cause of dissension, and had not given the cheque to the treasurer. Mr Forsyth stepped forward to accept it instead. He ignored several requests from Sir Matthew for the money. Instead he lodged it in a party petty-cash account in Edinburgh. Some of it was paid to a politically sympathetic PR agency, Leith Communications, which later became insolvent, to fund a campaign designed to by-pass the party establishment, in which Mrs Thatcher had lost confidence. Sir Matthew felt that the treatment of the cheque departed from standard party procedures, under which all donations are lodged with the treasurer. The "Forsyth Interregnum" was also marked by a purge of party workers and "wet" prospective candidates.[2]

'The firm most famously produced for Scottish Central Office the glossy magazine Scottish Conservative. This went down the tubes this year [1991], replaced by a newspaper from Central Office itself.'[3]

A GLOSSY magazine for Scottish Tories is facing the axe after just three issues. Scottish Conservative was launched last year under the aegis of Michael Forsyth during his spell as party chairman, but it has proved prohibitively expensive. Lord Sanderson, the present party chairman, hinted at a general need to economise when he succeeded Forsyth, and while the magazine title may survive, the word from head office is that what emerges will be a very different beast, possibly to the point of just a four-page insert in the party's national magazine. Advertising revenue has fallen far short of expectations and the publication has also been under political threat from Forsyth's opponents within the party. The third issue, due to be printed around the time Forsyth was removed as chairman last autumn, was postponed to December. No date for the next issue has been agreed. Brian Monteith, managing director of Leith Communications, the Edinburgh agency which handled the design and production services on a commercial basis for the party, said that advertising from business sources sympathetic to the party never materialised to defray the Pounds 25,000 cost per issue. He said: 'The magazine was supposed to be self-financing, but the party kept moving the goalposts and increasing costs, by insisting that it had to be distributed free to every member.' Sir Nicholas Fairbairn, MP for Perth and Kinross and editor of Scottish Conservative, dismissed reports of its death as premature. He said: It is going through a change of format, which is something all editors do from time to time. There is not the slightest question of it coming to an end.[4]

Decline and Fall

The liquidator's records show that after the company was wound up in 1995, ordinary creditors were owed a whopping pounds 50,901. But because the company only had realised assets of pounds 5000 - used to pay expenses and liquidation fees - they had to settle for nothing. Among the creditors was the Tory party who had to write off pounds 366 for an advert. Others are said to include the BBC. Insiders say one of the main reasons for the firm's collapse was the decision by the Scottish Tories in 1991 to axe a glossy magazine produced by Monteith's company...[5]

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Notes

  1. Sunday Mail August 31, 1997, Sunday IT'S A NO NO!; pounds 53,000 strife of Brian; The firm Leith Communications run by anti-devo campaigner Brian Monteith went bust with debts of more than pounds 53,000 BYLINE: Angus Macleod SECTION: Page 7
  2. The Herald (Glasgow) October 19, 1993 Scots Tories' turbulent years revealed SECTION: Pg. 1
  3. The Guardian (London) October 25, 1991 Diary BYLINE: By ANDREW MONCUR
  4. Sunday Times January 27, 1991, Sunday Forsyth magazine proves too costly BYLINE: by Mark Whittet SECTION: Home news
  5. Sunday Mail August 31, 1997, Sunday IT'S A NO NO!; pounds 53,000 strife of Brian; The firm Leith Communications run by anti-devo campaigner Brian Monteith went bust with debts of more than pounds 53,000 BYLINE: Angus Macleod SECTION: Page 7
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